We have to enter them ALL time. For every website, for our email, even at our bank. We use passwords so often, that we forget just how important they are.
Until we get “hacked”.
I got that call today. A friend’s email had been “hacked”. Someone had taken over his email account and sent a message to everyone in his address book. Just what was the message? That he was stranded in London after having been mugged. And, that he needed some cash to get home, asking all his friends to wire some money to him.
My friend found out that his email had been hacked when he started getting phone calls from his friends, checking up on him.
But, not only had this email gone out from his account. The “hackers” had also deleted his entire address book, and forwarded all his email to a new address. Now he was seriously messed up.
That’s when he called me. Asking for some help. I gave him some advice and then gave him “the talk“.
Of course, that’s the talk about the importance of strong passwords. The problem with passwords is that we have to use them so often that we forget just how important they are.
For my friend, the problem most likely came from the fact that someone “guessed” his password to his email. He wasn’t “hacked”, he didn’t have a virus, someone just got lucky and guessed his password.
So, just what is a strong password?
The answer is simple – long, complex, and hard to remember.
The problem, of course, is that if it is long, complex, and hard to remember – then we probably won’t remember it either. Sort of a bummer, huh? Well, here’s a few tips to making “good” passwords:
- Use a combination of lowercase letters, uppercase letter, numbers, and symbols.
- Avoid using a dictionary word. No matter how clever you think you are being, a dictionary word will get hacked. I promise.
- Switch vowels for symbols or numbers. The idea here is that any time you would want to type a letter E, use the number 3. Instead of the letter O use the number zero. You can also number the vowels and replace them with their corresponding numbers. So, the letter A becomes 1, E becomes 2, I becomes 3, etc.
- Longer is ALWAYS better. Your password should be at least 8 characters. But, I often suggest using a lot more than that. Do you have a favorite song? Why not use the first line to the chorus as your password. Yes, the entire first line. So, if my favorite song is “Pride” by U2, my password might be “In the name of love! What more in the name of love?” While, that obviously has dictionary words, it would be a pretty strong password. Use spaces, correct capitilization, and punctuation.
- Avoid using just one password. I know we all want to keep it simple. But, if you use the same password for everything, then if someone happens to guess your password, then they have access to everything. Try using several passwords.
- Use a password manager program. If you need help (and who doesn’t) consider using a password program. My favorite is LAST PASS. With Last Pass, you only remember ONE password. You use all the tips above and create one master password that is stored on your local machine only. No one can get it on the internet. Then, last pass will make up a new, very complex, random password for every site you visit that requires a password. Last Pass will do all the hard work of remembering which password goes with which site. You only remember your master password. The only danger here is that your computer is physically stolen. And, while that could happen, the odds are pretty slim. And, the thief would still have to crack your master password. And, if you followed my advice above, that would be extremely difficult.