by Shelley Seagler
If you’re like me, you decided that it was better to find the perfect Christmas gift while sitting in front of a computer screen instead of fighting the crowds at the mall. In fact earlier this year, the National Retail Federation estimated that 51.8% of U.S. Consumers would shop online this holiday season.
However, shopping online isn’t without its own set of hassles and perils. Perhaps the most common online shopping mistake is using passwords that can be easily hacked. Luckily, this error can be remedied with just a little effort.
First things First
As we discuss techniques for creating stronger passwords, you may start to worry about how you’re ever going to be able to remember a bunch of different passwords. Don’t worry! Password managers like PassPack or LastPass offer an affordable and ultra-secure way to save all of your passwords in one place – which means you only have to remember ONE password.
When it comes to creating a secure password, there are five things you should never do:
1. Don’t take it personally. Your dog’ name is Fido and your birthday is February 7th. How hard would it be for someone guess that your password is Fido27? Especially when your Facebook page includes both your birthday and pictures of your beloved pooch?
Your password absolutely cannot include any personal information. Do not use the name of your pets, kids, grandkids, street address, alma mater, etc. When it comes to numbers, make sure to avoid your birthday, anniversary, street number, etc. Your information is too readily available to anyone who wants it.
2. Don’t use real words. This advice is pretty straight forward advice- if you can find a word in the dictionary, don’t use it in your password.
3. Don’t use keyboard patterns. Look at the first six letters on the top row of your keyboard and you’ll see QWERTY. While there may have been a time when “qwerty” and other keyboard patterns were viewed as acceptable passwords, they are now way too easy for hackers to figure out.
4. Don’t set it and forget it. It’s tempting to keep the same passwords for all eternity, but it’s a risky move. Your passwords (all of them) should be updated at a minimum of every three to six months.
5. Don’t duplicate, be redundant or repetitive… Use a unique password for every site you visit. At the very minimum, use a totally unique password for each important site you visit. For example, your Twitter password shouldn’t be the same as the one you use for online banking.
Creating Strong Passwords
The best passwords should contain at least 8 characters and should use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters.
We’ll look at two techniques you can use to construct more secure passwords.
Step 1: Start with a simple phrase. Make up a phrase that’s easy to remember that includes a number or a word that can be converted to a number like “to” or “for.” I’ll use the phrase, “We like to eat apples four times a week.”
Step 2: Shorten it. “We like to eat apples four times a week” can be condensed to “Wl2ea4xaw.”
Step 3: Add special characters. If I add a dollar sign to the end of the password and an exclamation point to the beginning, “Wl2ea4xaw” turns into “!Wl2ea4xaw&” and my password automatically becomes more powerful.
Step 1: Start with a title. Take the title of something you can easily remember like a song, book, or movie. I’ll use the well-known The Catcher in the Rye for our example, but shorten it to Catcher Rye.
Step 2: Reverse it. Catcher Rye becomes “eyRrehctaC” (notice I kept the capitalization). Make sure you don’t stop here; simply reversing a word isn’t enough.
Step 3: Swap a letter for a number. If I replace the letter E with the number 2, I turn“eyRrehctaC” into “2yRr2hctaC.”
Step 4: Swap a letter for a special character. I can replace the letter A with an ampersand and now “2yRr2hctaC” is “2yRr2hct&C,” certainly a strong password.
In both of the examples above, I started with more than 8 characters, but you may want or need to make your password longer. In fact, many studies show that when it comes to password security, length is more important than complexity. A simply way to lengthen your password is to add a number or special character (or both) to the end and/or beginning of the password.