Passwords & Online Security
Cybersecurity experts are constantly advising the use of strong and unique passwords for every login and website. However, this is also one of the least followed recommendations!
Selecting a secure password is crucial because let’s face it, most of our life is now spent online – we have dozens of internet accounts and passwords. From shopping, emails, social media, among others, the average person spends around half of their day using the Internet. And the vast majority of these sites holds our personal information.
Most people however, create a few simple passwords, use them on multiple accounts and hope for the best. It may be easier to remember, but if someone manages to hack one account then all your other ones could be compromised.
Examples of bad passwords
The word “Password” is one the most commonly used passwords. It’s also fairly weak as it can be easily guessed.
Hackers and computer intruders use automated software to submit hundreds of guesses per minute to user accounts in an attempt to gain access. These tools often use lists of dictionary words to sequentially guess the password. In some cases, this software can actually add common symbols, numbers, or signs that may be added to the password to make it more complex. If the simple word doesn’t give access to an account, the software modifies the submission and tries other iterations of the same word. Therefore, if a password is anything close to a dictionary word, it’s extremely insecure. For example, let’s take the word dog: Dogs, Dogma, Dogmatic, Dogcatcher, Dog1, Dog2, Dog123… All these variations of the same word can still be easily discovered.
Here is a list of some of the worst passwords of 2018, published by the Irish Examiner:
Needless to say that if your passwords are part of this list, it might be time to change them.
Things to consider when creating strong passwords
There is no magic recipe but here is a list with things you should consider when creating a new password:
- Include Numbers, Symbols, Capital and Lower-Case Letters: Use a mix of different types of characters to make the password harder to crack.
- Use 12 Characters – Minimum: A longer password would be even better as it is harder to guess and therefore harder to hack.
- Avoid using patterns like ‘absdfgh’, ‘12345678’ and ‘qwerty’.
- Avoid using any personal information that can be found in your social media accounts such as names of people or pets, birthdays, places you lived or your sports team.
- Don’t use simple words or phrases – Any word on its own is bad. Any combination of a few obvious words is still not good enough. “House” is a terrible password. “Yellow house”, “opensesame” or “letmein”‘ are still quite poor.
With the tips above, it’s pretty easy to come up with a password. If you tap your keyboard randomly you can come up with a strong password like 3o)d&gSp&3lZ4#y9. It’s long, includes a mix of many different types of characters, and is hard to guess because it’s a series of random characters.
The only problem here is memorising it! Unless you have a photographic memory, it is nearly impossible to remember.
How to make it something you can remember?
You will need a password you can remember and it can’t be too obvious. You can use tricks to memorise it. For example, it might be easier for you to remember a sentence, like “My parents house is 57 Random Street. They have 2 dogs and 1 cat!” You can turn that sentence into a password by using only the first digits of each word. Your password would become Mphi57RS.Th2da1c!
Or if you used the sentence “It is raining cats and dogs!”, the password could be 1tsrAIn1NGc2ts&DGS!
On the other hand, if remembering all your passwords seems too daunting, you can always use a password manager!
This saves you a lot of thinking in terms of generating a hard-to-crack password and eliminates the risks associated with reusing them. It also stores your passwords in encrypted form, so you don’t have to remember or worry about losing them.
To sum it up, be mindful when creating a new password or changing an old one. The longer the better. Avoid any personal facts that can easily be found on your social media and ideally don’t use it more than once!
Michelle Gilmartin – Author