Why Your Passwords Aren’t Good Enough (Plus 3 Quick Fixes)

MARCH 2013: You may have heard about celebrities getting their accounts hacked lately but don’t let that fool you into thinking only famous people get targeted! Cyber criminals are super motivated to try to get into EVERYONE’S accounts because the risk is low and the rewards can be enormous. And they steal a lot more from regular people with weak passwords than they do from celebrities. 

So you need to be super motivated, too —  to create awesome passwords for all of your accounts. Hop on these three fixes to thwart even the most sophisticated cyber thieves:

  1. Make each of your passwords different. Yes, this means you may have to refer to your “cheat sheet” when you log in, but here’s why it’s important. Hackers know that you have about 26 accounts but only five different passwords. So if they can manage to steal passwords from seemingly benign sites (like gaming sites or groups), they can try using them (and similar ones) on your financial accounts. Even reputable companies like Amazon and Zappos sometimes get hacked. Name your cheat sheet something sly, hide any analog copies well (not on a sticky note on the back of your monitor) and consider keeping it in the cloud on Microsoft Sky Drive or Google Drive.
  2. Make them long. The longer your password, the stronger your password. How much stronger? Each character you add makes it thousands of times harder to decode your password because of all the added possibilities. There are 94 characters on your keyboard — including a “space,” which you can use in most passwords.
  3. Make them weird. When you sprinkle unpopular symbols throughout your password instead of adding popular ones at the end, your passwords will rock. Choose ^, {, }, <, `, |, \ and = instead of ?, !, *, #, $ and &. The same goes for choosing random letters or partial words rather than complete words. But don’t follow a pattern because hackers love that. Check out ways to invent great passwords and password generating apps here
  4. Is your password good enough? Paste it into a free analyzer from Passfault, Microsoft or other provider and find out. You can also buy one from reputable developers like CertainKey. And to find out about dropping the odds of a hack down to one in 100 trillion, check out three-factor authentication — the Fort Knox of password security. If your financial institution doesn’t have extra features like these, ask them about it!