Would you rather wash the dishes, or create a new password for an online account? If you chose doing the dirty dishes, you aren’t alone: According to a study by Harris Interactive and Janrain, 38% of the people surveyed would prefer doing household chores over creating a secure username and password combination.
Even when we finally sit down to create a password, we don’t seem to be that good at it. According to Avast, 53% of people use the same password for multiple websites. Even worse, 83% of people are using weak passwords.
Unfortunately, the number of identity theft cases is growing every day, and all it takes is one password for hackers to gain access to your life. Take Wired writer Mat Honan: Once a hacker got into his Apple ID account, his Twitter, iPhone, Mac and Gmail accounts were all compromised. The hacker went so far as to clear Honan’s hard drive clean, deleting pictures of his child’s first year, which are now gone forever.
Take these steps to make your passwords secure and keep the hackers out.
- Passwords should be at least eight characters long. Longer passwords are generally more difficult to hack.
- Use letters, numbers and symbols. Using all three types of characters makes it more difficult for hackers, as there are more variables they have to get right.
- Use both uppercase and lowercase. Again, this adds security, as there are more details a hacker would have to guess.
- Use a mnemonic phrase. This is a unique way to create a password that’s secure but easy to remember. Think of your favorite song, poem, prayer or pledge. Take a line from that and use the first letter of each word to construct your password. For example, the first line in the Beatles’ “Strawberry Field Forever” is, “Let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.” Taking the first letter of each word of that line, your password becomes “LmtydclgtSF.” Then, once you add numbers and symbols, your password might look something like this: Lmtyd_clgtSF/76. If you’re a Beatles fan, this password will be easy to remember but hard for the hacker to break into.
- Use a goal-setting password. Rather than have your password be a mental drain, use it as a step to achieving your goals. Think of something you want to accomplish in the next year and use that as your password. For example, say your goal is to get in shape and lose 10 pounds. Take the first letter of each of those words and add some numbers and characters: Gis&L10lbs!. Now you have a password that is motivating and strong.
- Use two-factor authentication. Many websites offer two-factor authentication when logging into accounts, which typically entails sending a verification code to the account holder’s phone before the login is successful. Enabling this feature ensures that if a hacker successfully guesses your password but does not have your phone, they cannot get into your account.
- Avoid common passwords. Protect yourself by avoiding passwords that are commonly used and first for hackers to guess, such as “Password,” “12345” or “abc123.”
- Avoid passwords that can easily be guessed. Next of a hacker’s list of possible passwords is your name, your spouse’s name, your child’s name, your pet’s name, your birthdate, your wedding anniversary, etc. Any information you share on social media acts as clues to your password for hackers, so stay away from passwords that use details found through your online presence. If you do not use social media, you still should not use these details as passwords because hackers might be able to gain access to this information through other means.
- Avoid dictionary words. While there are millions of dictionary words to choose from, a simple lowercase word is not a secure password. Hackers know which words are used most often – and if your password is one of these words, it won’t be long before they break in.
- Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. By using the same password over and over again, you’re making a hacker’s job easy. Once they gain access to one of your accounts, they will likely try that same password to get into other accounts you have. If the password is the same, they can easily wreak havoc on many different aspects of your life.
If the thought of creating multiple secure passwords and remembering them all seems daunting, there are password services that can help. Software like 1Password and LastPass stores and protects all of your logins and passwords with one master password. As you log into websites, you will be able to save account passwords in these different softwares so that the next time you log in, your username and password will either automatically populate, or you can search the software for your information and copy/paste it in.
Some of these softwares offer additional features like the ability to generate strong passwords for you and multifactor authentication options.
When it comes to password protection, being proactive is the best course of action. You don’t think you’ll get hacked, until you do. So don’t let the hackers in – update your passwords today to stay safe.
Devin Kropp is a New York-based writer for Horsesmouth.