The Internet has made information easier to access, but it has also made our personal information more vulnerable to attacks. Our identities are floating around in cyber space for anyone to see. In order to safeguard ourselves, we must live in a password-protected world. There are different login accounts for email, chats, forums, bank accounts, newspaper subscriptions and online dating, to name a few.
Although making up and juggling passwords can be annoying and time consuming, it is the safest way to surf the Internet. There is password management software available to help you manage the plethora of separate logins associated with our modern computer-based world. These programs aid in creating passwords and automatically saving and entering login information. Think of it this way: we wouldn t leave our homes unlocked and allow strangers to come in, so why would we do that with our computers?
The trouble is creating and remembering unique passwords for all these sites. Often, we use simple things like our children s names or our birthdays. Or we use the same password for all our logins. Hackers rely on people to do this. Here are a few tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
1. Create Strong Passwords
A strong password consists of a series of case-sensitive letters, numbers and symbols that are at least eight characters long. Microsoft says that passwords longer than 14 characters are ideal. Typically, the longer the password, the more difficult and time consuming it is to break.
Don't use anything that can be found in a dictionary. Hackers use a dictionary attack method where a hacker will literally go through an entire dictionary, English or otherwise, trying to guess a password. Using this method, it typically takes less than a day to crack.
Another common hacking method is called a brute force attack. Brute force is more time consuming than a dictionary attack, but it s not impossible. This method basically tries all the possible combinations of keys on a keyboard. Therefore, the longer the password, the more difficult it is to crack.
Weak passwords also include addresses, family names, pet names, high school names, Social Security numbers, or obvious sequences of numbers or letters like 123456, ABCDEF or any similar combination. Also, you should never, ever leave a field blank. All of these are sure-fire ways to allow strangers to discover your personal information.
2. Don t Forget Your Passwords
One of the most common mistakes in creating a strong password is forgetting it. If you do, not only will hackers be unable to access your personal information, but neither will you.
The goal of creating passwords that combine letters, numbers and symbols is to make them seem as random as possible. Find something that has meaning only to you. Get creative. One suggestion is to use the first letter of phrases, song lyrics, poetry or made-up vanity license plates. For example, Spoiled Rotten could be changed to 5Poi1dRaw10.
After creating your password, use it immediately and frequently during the course of the day. This will help with memorization.
Don t use your great new password for everything. Think of unique ones for each of your accounts. This may seem like a hassle but it ensures that if one account is compromised, at least the others are safe.
There is some debate as to whether you should print or write your passwords down. Arguably, if there is a hard copy, then someone can find it and hack into your system. If you do decide to print a master copy, be sure to lock it in a safe to which only you have the key.
3. Change It Up a Little
Change your passwords regularly. Regularly means once every month or two. This too may seem like a hassle, but there are plenty of people in the world who would love to have access to your bank accounts and credit card information. Microsoft suggests changing your passwords every 30 to 90 days.
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Microsoft, (March 22, 2006). Help protect your personal information with strong passwords. Retrieved June 13, 2006, from Microsoft.com Web site: http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/privacy/password.mspx
Security Stats Inc., (2000). Password Security. Retrieved June 14, 2006, from SecurityStats.com Web site: http://www.securitystats.com/tools/password.php