Password Security

Why You Need Good Passwords

Every day, thousands of computer users are performing internet searches to learn how to steal passwords. On the bright side, if you can look at it that way, most of these people do not seek to steal your money. They are people you know, unfortunately, who are nosy and want to know who you are emailing, what you are saying about others, etc. They've let their curiosity get carried away and want to dig up dirt or create gossip.

Hopefully, you want to keep some of your private information from find their way in to the hands of friends and acquaintances. By taking the steps we outline below, you will significantly decrease the chance of them hacking into your private life. More importantly, by preventing them from easily figuring out your password, you will also be making it harder for more serious thiefs from stealing your passwords, which can be used to cause financial pain. Once they realize you are not an easy target, they will move on to someone else who is an easier target.

Do Not Use Names, Birthdates, or Words From a Dictionary

The easiest way to keep someone from figuring out your password is to avoid using people's names, their birth dates, or any word that can be found in a dictionary. People who want to steal you password can quickly find a simple software program that will quickly try many combinations of common names and words.

These same programs will also quickly try random combinations of letters. The fewer characters you use in your password, the quicker the program will figure out the one you've used. This is why you find you are usually forced to create passwords that are at least five characters long. It takes a lot longer for software programs to find the right set of five characters that matches the one you've used for your password than it would if you used only three characters. Again, the harder you make it for others to crack your password, the more likely they are to move on to try someone else's account.

Use Capital Letters, Numbers & Symbols

In the previous step, we learned that the more characters you use, the better. We say 'characters' instead of 'letters' on purpose. If you use only small case alphabet letters in your password, a patient person may wait long enough for the software hacking program to try all 27 letters of the alphabet for each part of your password. If you use both small letters and capital letters, it will take much longer for a software program to figure out your password because there are 54 letters it will need to try out for each part of your password. This occurs when web sites you access require case sensitive passwords.

Adding in numbers 0-9 increases the number of potential characters for each part of your password to 64. This makes it even longer for a software program to figure out the right combination of characters that matches the ones you have used for your password. Sometimes, you will also be allowed to use the characters on your keyboard that are associated with the 0 - 9 keys on your keyboard. If you are allowed to do this, take advantage of it.

Now, if you think you may have a friend who has all of the patience in the world to try out every single potential combination, try not to worry. Many web sites that require passwords, especially those of financial institutions, prevent users from entering more than three, sometimes five, failed passwords in a row. If a person fails to enter the correct password on several occasions they are temporarily locked out from trying again. In some cases, the person must re-register to apply for a password in order to confirm they are the legitimate person who owns the account. However, not every web site provides this feature and not every system is foolproof as clever programmers sometimes find a backdoor or way to prevent a system from working as intended. Thus, your best defense, which is a very good defense to protect your privacy, is to create passwords of at least six characters, using a combination of small letters, capital letters, numbers, and when allowed, characters associated with the number keys.

Password Strategy

You should avoid writing down passwords. You don't want a nosy friend seeing it and you don't want to accidently throw it away in the trash where others may find it. If you can figure out a way to remember multiple passwords and not have to right them down, that is the ideal approach. This way, if someone does, on the off chance, figure out your password, they can't access other web sites under your name since you use a different password for each one.

If you can't remember several different passwords, which is most of us, you should still be in very good shape if you just create a few very good passwords. Consider making a password that you use for all of web sites where you access your financial information, a separate one for your email web sites, and a third one for accessing social networking web sites, newspaper accounts, and other non-financial and non-email related web sites.

Before we go on, this is a good place to note you should always look to ensure you are accessing a secure financial web site before entering a password. You can learn more on how to know if you are accessing a secure web site by accessing the web site security section in our article about shopping safely online. The same can be said for accessing email web sites, especially when you are using a public computer or using a wireless connection. When accessing your email web sites, you should make a habit of using the "Use Enhanced Security" feature, if it is not automatically done for you. For example, Yahoo Mail automatically creates an https:// connection whereas Hotmail makes it an optional connection. On that note, we'll continue on with the rest of our lesson.

Every web site has a different requirement for creating passwords. Some do not require a minimum number of characters, others do not require both small case and capital case letters, and many do not require you to use numbers. Even if a web site does not have strict requirements, you might as well create a good password that is memorable and meets the requirements across all web sites.

At a minumum, create a password that is at least 6 characters long and uses small case letters, capital case letters, and numbers. You will be able to use this good password across a number of sites since this combination will meet the varying requirements for most web sites. Most financial web sites should allow you to also use the characters you see associated with each number on your keyboard. Consider using the characters for your financial password. Note that these characters are frequently not allowed in passwords for non-financial web sites.

Create a Password You Can Remember

To create a memorable password, think of a combination of words or phrase, where you can substitute out some of the letters for numbers and possibly characters. For example, if you like to eat oranges, you may be able to easily remember the phrase "I eat oranges". Here is a password you could use that looks like the phrase "I eat oranges" but incorporates similar looking letters and characters: 1e@t0rangeS. In this example, the number 1 was used instead of the letter I, the character @ was used instead of the letter a, the number 0 was used instead of the letter o, and the last letter S was capitalized.

Hopefully, this will inspire your creativity to create a secure password that is also memorable. For more advice on staying safe on the internet, read our following articles on Internet Security. You can always come back to the lessons by using our 'Quick Access for Beginners' drop-down list in the right column of each page. The drop-down list provides a link to all of the Beginners Lessons. Javascript required.:

You may also want to check out our Internet Help for Beginners tutorial or our lessons for Experienced Users to improve your internet experience.

Good Luck

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