Making an effort to be a safer cyber citizen helps protect your own identity and other personal data, and it makes you a better co-worker and employee, too. While we can’t all be cyber security pros, there are lots of things you can do to reduce your vulnerability to hackers and other Online Bad Guys. With that in mind, we’re offering a series of hacks for safer cyber citizenship.
In my first article, I talked about password length. There is strength in numbers when it comes to passwords, and the math proves it. The longer your password, the exponentially harder it is to crack. But you can do more, to make it even more crack-resistant.
Hack #2: Get Creative
As online users, we’re always in a hurry. We like things short and sweet. Convenient. Sadly, that’s exactly why our passwords are often so easy to hack. A shockingly large percentage of people choose straight sequences of numbers (12345) or letters (asdf). We use our dog’s name. Or our kid’s birthday. Or “password.” Or we open a dictionary and pick a word – that’s random, so it must be good, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Hackers don’t guess at your passwords, they troll your social media profiles and postings to glean all those “about me” numbers or words you might use. They use specialized software “crackers” that can scan an entire dictionary (in any language) and detect a match in seconds. The least you can do is make it more difficult for them.
So be creative, and be random:
- Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
- Use punctuation, too. Did you know you can even use blank spaces?
- Link words, etc. into nonsensical phrases or sequences – catbench1342, or cat bench 1342
- Don’t use the same password for several sites. Sure, it’s a lot easier if you only have to recall a few, but once a hacker gets their hands on one password they’ll have access to who-knows-what-all.
Think you’ve come up with a great password?
Check it out, to be sure. Hackers use computers to break into your data, and you can use computers to help outwit them. OnlineDomainTools has a password checker, as does HowSecureIsMyPassword? You can see how yours stacks up and get hints to beef it up, if needed. Also, most websites that require passwords assess the strength of yours as you’re creating it. Follow their lead, to make your password as strong as possible.
Even if you’re talented at devising clever mnemonics, most of us have so many passwords now it’s simply too hard to remember them all. So it’s OK to write them down. But put them in a secure location (not next to your computer).
There is one more thing you can do to boost the protective power of your passwords. We’ll reveal that later in our series on hacks for safer cyber citizenship.