The locks to our online accounts, personal information, bank accounts, and precious memories are not physical keys but passwords. The strength of these passwords can mean the difference between protecting our online sanctuaries and leaving the door wide open for threat actors.
Weak passwords are akin to fragile locks, easily picked by those with malicious intent. With cyberthreats on the rise, the importance of a robust password cannot be overstated.
Understanding Password Security
Strong passwords act as a barrier that protects your personal and financial information from prying eyes. To make sure you’re creating the best password for the utmost possible defense, you need to understand the threats that are out there and the weak points that they look for.
Common Password Vulnerabilities
- Predictability: Passwords like password123, 123456, or abcdef might be easy to remember, but they’re also the first guesses for attackers. Birthdays, names, and common phrases are similarly predictable.
- Short Length: The shorter the password, the easier it is to crack. Each additional character in a password makes it exponentially tougher for an attacker to guess.
- Lack of Complexity: Passwords that only use lowercase letters or don’t use numbers and special characters are less secure than those that mix it up.
- Reused Passwords: If you use the same password across multiple platforms, a breach in one website can compromise your security on others.
- Outdated Passwords: Not updating or changing your passwords periodically can leave your accounts susceptible to unauthorized access over time.
Password Attack Types
Brute Force Attack
Attackers try every possible combination of characters until they find the correct password. Longer and more complex passwords make brute-force attacks time-consuming and less feasible.
In this method, attackers use a list (or “dictionary”) of common passwords and phrases to guess the password. This is why “password123” is not a good choice.
This isn’t a direct attack on the password’s strength but rather a deception technique. Attackers trick individuals into willingly giving up their passwords, often through misleading emails or websites.
5 Tips on Creating a Strong Password
We now know that just having a password isn’t enough to prevent threat actors from accessing your information. Passwords have to be strong to prevent determined hackers from getting what they want. Here are some elements that constitute a strong password.
1. Length Matters
Simply put, the longer the password, the better. Each additional character boosts the number of potential combinations, making it much more difficult for someone to crack. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 12-16 characters.
2. Complex Characters
Variety is key. Just as a balanced diet includes different food groups, a robust password should have a mix of:
- Uppercase letters (A-Z)
- Lowercase letters (a-z)
- Numbers (0-9)
- Special characters (!, $, &, *, etc.)
This concoction of character types confounds would-be hackers and boosts your password’s strength.
3. Avoiding Predictability
If it’s easily guessable, it’s not doing its job. Steer clear of:
- Names (yours, family members, pets, friends)
- Significant dates (birthdays, anniversaries)
- Common phrases (e.g., “iloveyou” or “password”)
So answer the question, “How strong is my password”? If it’s any of the above, it’s not strong enough.
4. Embrace Randomness
Avoid forming patterns like “abcd” or “1234” or keyboard paths like “qwerty”. These sequences are on the radar of most attackers. The more random and less like a word or phrase it appears, the stronger your password will be.
5. Uniqueness is Vital
Never reuse passwords across multiple sites or platforms. Each account deserves its own unique password. Think of it like a key; you wouldn’t use the same key for your house, car, and safety deposit box.
Remembering Strong Passwords
Crafting a strong password is only half the battle; the next challenge is remembering it. If you’re not using a password manager, there are a few tricks you can keep up your sleeve to help you remember them.
Mnemonics and Memory Techniques: Mnemonics are techniques that transform information into a format that’s easier to remember. For good password ideas, consider turning a phrase into a password. The phrase “Every morning at 7, I eat 2 eggs!” can become “Ema7,Ie2e!.”
By using the initial letters of words, along with the numbers, you’ve created a password that tells a story only you might recognize. Other strong password examples could be a random string of letters, numbers, and special characters:
The Importance of Not Sharing Passwords: It might sound like a no-brainer, but sharing a password, even with a trusted individual, is akin to giving away a key to your house. Over time, you may lose track of who has access which increases the risk of misuse. Always keep passwords to yourself, ensuring they serve their primary purpose: protecting your information.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Sometimes, even the most formidable password can benefit from an extra layer of security. Two-factor authentication requires a second verification step, usually a code sent to your phone, email, or an authentication app.
This means even if someone cracks your password, they still can’t access your account without the second verification. It’s like having a double lock on a door. If your online platforms offer 2FA, it’s wise to enable it.
Password Management Tools
The more passwords you’re using, the more difficult it is to remember them all – especially if you’re following the best practices of creating complex and unique passwords for each account.
- You set one strong master password for the manager itself.
- The manager then securely stores all other passwords you input, usually encrypted, for an added layer of protection.
- When you need to log into an account, the manager can auto-fill or provide the password for you.
- Many also offer features like generating strong passwords for you, alerting you of reused or weak passwords, and notifying you if a password may have been compromised in a breach.
Built-in Browser Password Managers
- They can remember passwords and auto-fill them when you visit websites.
- Browsers may also suggest strong passwords when you’re creating new accounts or updating existing passwords.
- The stored passwords are often synced across devices if you’re using the same browser and are logged into your account.
While browser-based managers offer convenience, they might not have the full feature set or the same level of security as dedicated password manager applications.
It’s also worth noting that if someone gains access to your computer or device and it isn’t protected, they could potentially access all saved passwords in the browser.
Regular Password Maintenance
While setting a strong password is a significant first step, maintaining its strength over time is equally important. Think of it as similar to servicing a car: periodic checks ensure that everything runs smoothly and any potential issues are addressed promptly.
Here’s a structured approach to help you accomplish this:
- Regular Password Updates:
- Сhange your passwords regularly. While there’s some debate on the ideal frequency, it’s suggested to update your passwords every three to six months.
- Regular updates help counteract the risk posed by potential data breaches and limit the damage in case a password does fall into the wrong hands.
2. Respond to Security Issues:
- It’s particularly important to change passwords if there’s any hint of a security issue, such as a suspicious activity alert or news of a breach involving a service you use.
- Speaking of breaches, it’s essential to stay informed and be proactive. If you hear of a security incident at a company or service where you have an account, don’t wait for them to contact you.
- Immediately update your password and monitor the account for any signs of unauthorized access.
- Sometimes, companies might not even be aware of a breach until much later, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Avoid Changing Passwords Too Frequently Without Reason:
- While regular updates are important, changing passwords too frequently or without good reason can be counterproductive.
- Excessive changes might lead to weaker passwords or reliance on patterns if you’re trying to remember too many changes.
- Instead, prioritize updates based on potential risks and always aim for strong, unique passwords for each update.
4. Combine Regular Maintenance with Vigilant Monitoring:
- Regular password maintenance, combined with vigilant monitoring for breaches, keeps your online security robust.
Remember, the security of your online accounts is an ongoing process, and staying proactive is key to keeping your information safe from potential threats.
Passwords are the primary keys to safeguarding our personal and financial information. Their strength determines our online security, with weak ones resembling fragile locks easily picked by malicious entities. A safe password (strong password) is a safe online experience.