7 Things You Should Know About Online Passwords

Written By: Jane Smith

As online technology has advanced, so have hackers techniques for getting into your accounts and stealing personal information. Hackers break into computers 2,244 times each day by figuring out weak usernames or passwords, according to University of Maryland data. If you’re still using the same password you made up when you opened your first email account, you are setting yourself up to be a hacking victim. But don’t worry; read on and learn how to set those Internet geniuses-gone-wrong up for failure by knowing the essentials about online passwords.

  1. You need different passwords for each site

    Since passwords are so hard to remember and you sometimes don’t sign into a site for months, many people have one or two passwords they use for everything. This is an easy way for hackers to get access to your accounts. Hackers will infiltrate sites that aren’t very secure and uncover the passwords used there. Then they run them on all the most popular sites; if you use the same password across the board, they can easily access several of your accounts. By using a different one for each site you log into, you’re not handing them your life if they figure out one password.

  2. Longer passwords are harder to hack

    It obviously takes less time to type in a five-character password than a 15-character one, but that also means it will take less time for an Internet burglar to figure out. Most of us probably don’t have the interest or the determination to break into someone’s account, so it’s hard to imagine going through enough combinations to find out a five-letter password. Hackers have advanced programs, though, that allow their computers to go through hundreds of possibilities every minute. Each letter, number, or symbol you add to your passwords multiplies the time it takes to figure it out, hopefully frustrating the hacker enough that he gives up. A six-letter password that’s all lower-case takes 10 minutes to hack while an eight-letter one takes four days.

  3. You shouldn’t use a word from the dictionary

    A dictionary attack sounds like something an overworked English teacher would do, but it’s actually a method of hacking passwords. Many hackers use automated password-guessers that go through the words in the dictionary to try to crack yours. If you’ve used any common words, there’s a good chance that a person equipped with the right tools will be able to break into your account very quickly. By combining two or three dictionary words, you increase the amount of time it will take to guess it exponentially. By adding symbols and numbers in the middle of words, you protect yourself almost completely from a dictionary attack.

  1. Humans tend to choose passwords with personal meanings

    Because we as humans are so forgetful, our first instinct when choosing a password is to think of words that mean something to us personally. This makes our choices very predictable to hackers. Pet names, favorite sports teams, birthdays, and other personal bits of information are some of the most commonly used passwords, so if anyone knows even a little bit about you (or can find it on Facebook), you could be in trouble. Stay away from using your own name, names of people in your family, or any memorable dates. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t be using “123456” or “qwerty.”

  2. Passwords need to be changed regularly

    Some offices and organizations require you to change your password every 90 or 180 days, and while it seems like a hassle, it’s actually a smart practice to do with all your accounts. This is especially important to do with online banking sites or shopping sites where your credit card information might be stored. It’s also necessary if you access any accounts on public or shared computers because your password may be stored without you knowing it and some hackers use programs that record your keystrokes. By regularly changing your password to something completely different, you lower the risk of any major damage being done if someone did manage to hack your account.

  3. There are guidelines for creating strong ones

    Now that you know you shouldn’t use common words or your dog’s name to access your online accounts, you might wonder what you should use instead. Most Internet security experts recommend having a password that’s at least 8 characters long with a mix of capitalized and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. A common technique for avoiding easily guessed words is to put three unrelated words together and make up a short story that involves all three so you can remember it. You can also use the first letter of each word in your favorite line of a song or movie. Change out a couple letters for numbers or special characters, and your password should be too much trouble for a hacker to figure out.

  4. Password managers can help you keep track of them all

    Once you’ve updated all your passwords to long strings of letters and digits, you’re probably going to forget one along the way. Security experts say it’s a bad idea to write down a list of all your passwords and leave it on or near your computer because someone could easily steal it. The smartest alternative is to use a trusted password manager, which can be web-based technology, software you put on your computer, or a portable device. Password managers keep track of your various passwords and often protect against keystroke recording programs and look-alike sites that hackers use.