By Kevin Theissen
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—they’ve all fallen prey to hackers who exposed passwords and other personal information for hundreds of thousands of their users. If you haven’t yet had your password stolen, chances are, it may be only a matter of time.
Hearing the word “hacker” may conjure up the image of a teenaged kid up all night systematically trying to guess at passwords. But hacking has become a much more complex, sophisticated, and lucrative operation. Breached passwords can fetch big money on the black market.
So, what does that mean to you? It means your passwords are valuable and vulnerable commodities. There are steps you can take to help foil hackers and protect your privacy. Consider these strategies for protecting your passwords.
No plain English
Simple strings of numbers, along with passwords that can be found in the dictionary, are the easiest to crack. Microsoft suggests that your password should contain one or more upper- and lower-case characters, numbers, symbols, and even unicode characters.
Fast Fact: According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were over 1,000 cybercrime data breaches in 2016, exposing more than 36 million personal records.
Mix it up
Many people use the same password for multiple accounts because it’s easier to remember. But this could lead to serious consequences. You may not be too concerned about the personal information stored in your LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, but what would happen if hackers used your compromised password to access your email, brokerage, or bank accounts? If you have trouble remembering multiple passwords, you may want to keep a list, but don’t store it on your desktop or in your inbox. Give the file a misleading name and bury it where only you can find it.
Favor length and complexity
The longer your password, the more difficult it will be to crack. Instead of a password, consider using a favorite movie quote, song lyric, or poem. To make your password even stronger, string together only the first couple letters of each word in the phrase. Another strategy involves simply jamming on the keyboard, intermittently hitting Shift and Alt keys until you have a password you’re satisfied with. For sensitive accounts, it may make sense to change your passwords on a regular basis. If you like the idea of optimal password protection but worry you won’t be able to handle multiple changing passwords, password-protection software can help you organize, store, and use password data.
There’s no such thing as an impregnable password. Putting personal information behind a basic password is like leaving your Porsche in a parking lot with your keys on the dash. By taking preventative measures to strengthen your password, you may be able to help safeguard your sensitive personal data and your privacy.
Kevin Theissen, Principal, Skygate Financial Group, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.