As a tech company, we talk a lot about security issues, both internally and in discussions with our customers. The businesses we work with rely on us to give them solid guidance and to provide tech solutions that are reliable and secure. While no piece of software and no digital business system is 100% hacker-proof, I like to think that we do a pretty good job for our customers when it comes to providing them a secure means with which to conduct business online. But no matter how many layers of security you have in place, there always seems to be one chink in the armor: passwords.
At home or at work, your passwords can be the weakest link in your chain of security. Think about your online accounts and the passwords you use to access them. If you catch yourself saying any of the following, your passwords might need another look.
- “My password isn’t too long or too short, it’s just right.”
If your password consists of 8 or fewer characters, it may not actually be “just right.” The longer and more varied your password, the more secure it is.
- “My password uses both letters and numbers.”
That’s a good start, but adding a special character or two can help with making your password more varied. Go ahead, embrace a $ or ? or two.
- “I use the same password for more than one site or service.”
I get it – you’ve got a lot of online accounts and it’s easier to use the same password to access all of them. But if a hacker got into one site using your password, it’s possible they could access others using that same password.
- “It’s easy to memorize.”
If it’s your anniversary, your birthday, your favorite band, or anything similar, all it takes is a little knowledge of your personal life and a hacker can be off to the races with your information.
- “It’s so obvious no one would guess it.”
Guess again. The king of the guessable passwords is…”password.” Sound familiar?
- “It’s a word no one would guess.”
The fact that you’re using an actual word means it could be guessed. Password cracking software can run through every word in the dictionary in a matter of seconds, and if you’re using a real word, you’re asking for trouble.
- “It’s my dog’s/cat’s/mom’s name.”
Once again, all it takes is a little knowledge of your personal life, which really isn’t all that hard to find out. Even if your dog’s/cat’s/mom’s name is Gertrude.
- “It doesn’t matter because I don’t have much.”
You may not have much, but if a hacker is intent on stealing your identity, you’ll have even less… and possibly a lot more debt or even a criminal record before it’s over.
- “Two-factor authentication? What’s that?”
Using a single factor to gain access to your online accounts means that anyone can access your information from anywhere, which means critically important accounts like your bank or email could be compromised long before you realize it.
- “I save my passwords in a password-protected Excel spreadsheet/handy notebook/3×5 card in my wallet.”
Having all of your passwords in a single, easily-hackable place is a dangerous method of operation. Password-protecting an Excel spreadsheet doesn’t encrypt your files, and someone could crack your password and have instant access to all of your passwords in one location. The same goes for passwords written down anywhere – if anyone gets their hands on your crib sheet, your life is wide open for all to see.
Yikes! Now what?
After reading that list you might be thinking, “It’s like you’re inside my head!” If any of those top ten reasons sound familiar to you, take that as a definite signal you need to do something about the state of your passwords. Fortunately, I’ve got some very specific steps for you to take:
- Assess each of your passwords; if they fit ANY of the criteria above, change them.
- Invest in a password manager (Pro tip: a password manager can help you assess and change your weak passwords, quickly and easily. It can also help you to create a secure password each time you open another online account.)
- Turn on two-factor authentication wherever you can (a list of sites offering it here)
Doing something about the state of your passwords might take a little bit of effort on your part, but in the long run it will help to protect you and your travels online. Just ask anyone who’s had their online life compromised in some way. It’s not fun, and it’s a rude awakening to the reality of poor passwords. Don’t let it happen to you!