Passwords are a necessary evil in the digital online world we live in. It’s the door key to our music, photos, communication, bank accounts, careers and our digital identity. Poor password habits lead to privacy exposure, embarrassment, and theft more often than not. Yet, making complicated password habits can lock you out unexpectedly. So balance and organization is needed. To get started let’s start with some basics.
Simple passwords are dangerous
In picking a password remember these cardinal rules you should never break:
- Never choose a word that can be found in a dictionary.
- Do not use the name of people, children, places, or pets.
- Don’t use passwords entirely made up of numbers.
Many websites have rules to follow. Not all are the same but a few common rules are:
- Must be 8 characters in length.
- Must contain a capital letter, a number, a lowercase letter, and a special character.
How do you know if your password is too simple? You can use online tools to test the security of a password. One such tool can be found at www.howsecureismypassword.net.
Don’t reuse the same password
It’s highly recommended not to use the same password for all of your accounts. This is extremely important. You cannot control the companies that get hacked or what information gets stolen. But you can keep different passwords for your accounts. If someone steals your password they won’t have the keys to all of your accounts. That only works if you have different passwords for each account.
Keep your password list in a safe accessible place
I do not recommend keeping a written or printed list of passwords. Instead use a dedicated password app on your computer, smart phone or tablet to keep them locked away. The best apps can sync your password list to all your devices. Here are a few of my favorite password apps:
- Zoho Vault
Consider using a password algorithm
Some experts feel that long truly random passwords are the best bet for security. The above password apps can help you generate exactly that sort of password.
It’s hard to argue with that method, but it’s very difficult to remember. I prefer to use a password algorithm to create unique passwords and make them a little easier to remember if my password management app is too hard to get to.
Here is how it works. Make up a few simple rules that will create a unique password for each account. Here are some examples:
- The first two letters of the domain name
- The last letter of the domain name
- The number of letters in the domain name
- The year you create this password
- Hold the shift key to produce a special character in place of a number.
Using the above for facebook.com could produce “8Fak*15BS” (Facebook has ‘8’ letters, The first two letters are ‘Fa’ and I capitalized the first letter. The last letter is ‘k’. Again Facebook has ‘8’ letters hold the shift key while pressing 8 to get ‘*’ instead, the two digit year is ‘15’, and finally I added my personal initials.) Google could be “6Goe^15BS” and Bing could be “4Big$15BS”.
Keep in mind longer passwords are harder to crack. Adding two or three characters to your password can add hundred of years to the amount of time it would take to crack it.
Change Passwords Regularly
If you have a lot of passwords, you’ll hate this idea. It’s important to change your password regularly. How often? The answer varies amongst the experts. Truthfully, anything is better then never changing a password for years on end. Try to set a reminder to do it once a year or every six months.
Additionally, the password manager apps can keep a history of passwords you used. This can be quite handy.
Change bad habits
You may not feel like your data is important, and thus your password isn’t valuable. Please, reconsider that feeling. It may not be your data that is at risk. In a school environment your password could open access to student data that can be stolen or modified.
I’ve had students try to look over my shoulder to discover passwords. Sadly, I’ve heard of people writing all their passwords on a sheet of paper and keep it in a flip file on their desk. There are some that share passwords with other colleges. I’ve seen some passwords sent via group emails. We’ve all heard of the bad habit of putting the password on a note under your keyboard. And we should all avoid the bad routine of using the same password for everything and anything.
Thankfully, the Technology world is working to make passwords and security better and easier to use. We all look forward to someday forgetting about passwords and using fingerprints, retina scans, voice recognition or something better. Until then it’s wise to protect ourselves and teach our students the value of practicing good technology habits.