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Why Usernames Are Important and How to Choose Good Ones

(UPDATED) How much time do you spend choosing a username when setting up an account? Maybe two seconds? If you’re like most of us, you probably use an old standby then hop along with your day. But that can act as a calling card to your real identity.

Here’s why usernames matter, six smart username tips, and four online username generators to make your digital life easier:

Your usernames can be used to build an entire profile about you. Then this information can be used for all kinds of purposes, from relatively benign ones like marketing campaigns to downright malicious ones like identity theft.

One study was able to discover real-life identities 42% of the time by simply cross-referencing usernames. How? Techies are smart! And so are cybercriminals. Without much difficulty, they can capture information from groups and websites you belong to, and possibly even access your browser history. Often this data also leads to your social networking sites, which gives them pretty much everything else they need, including clues to your passwords. Social networks are also where a lot of social engineering starts because hacking people is easier for cybercriminals than hacking technology.

What’s more, the same behavioral targeting and tracking software used by marketers to track which sites you visit and eventually buy from can also be used by cybercriminals.

So, before you go around scattering traces of personal data here and there, take a little time to choose an appropriate username for new accounts, and consider logging onto existing accounts to update those usernames, too.

Six username tips

  1. Don’t use your full name or parts of your address or phone number
  2. Don’t use your email username
  3. Don’t use the same username and password combination, especially on financial accounts
  4. Don’t choose a super-odd username and then reuse it again and again — it makes you easier to track
  5. Don’t choose a username that gives clues to your passwords such as a series of numbers/letters or the first part of a two-part phrase, such as knock-knock or starlight
  6. DO choose a username that’s appropriate for the type of account, i.e., business, social or personal

Username generators

If you don’t want to think too hard, a username generator is the way to go. Bookmark one of these:

Jimpix
Choose a random username in a random category or customize one using the drop-down menus.

BestRandoms
Enter a favorite word and the generator will give you dozens of options that include that word.

Screen Name Generator
If your username will be visible to others (or you just want to have some fun with your usernames), choose one with an interesting persona — maybe a screen name, Twitter name, medieval name, or elf name.

LastPass
Choose a random username that’s easy to say or read from one to 50 characters.

If you choose a random password generator that’s not on the list above, make sure the generator’s website is secure. SpinXO, for example, is a popular username generator but as of this writing it was not secure.

Check your memory at the door

LastPass generates usernames, as discussed above, but it’s best known for being a top password manager. A password manager stores the login information for your accounts in an encrypted web vault and fills it in for you automatically when you visit those websites. No memory needed! Except for one main password.

Password managers also keep you from the temptation of reusing usernames and passwords again and again. It only takes a couple of clicks to generate new ones so why not? Use a free or subscription version of LastPass or Dashlane or subscribe to 1Password.

Here at Leapfrog, we’re big believers in being safer than the next user (sorry, next user). If your data is hard to crack, cybercriminals will move on to someone who’s an easier target.

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