One of the most consistent mistakes I see people making around their computers is their choice of passwords. Choosing poorly can cause you a lot of grief, but I'm going to explain what to avoid, and give you some suggestions on what to do to keep yourself safe.
First off, let me explain what a password is. Now some of you are thinking “I know what a password is, " and most of you are probably right. But, I do find a number of people confusing it with “username" or “account. "
Let's use the example of email – whenever you check your email, your computer is offering your username (sometimes called account, user ID, screen name, or something similar) it offers that, and your password to the mail server. A mail server is just a computer out on the internet which is set up to store and “serve" your email to you).
Now depending on how your computer is set up, you may be asked for some this information every time, or you may not, but either way your computer is using this information to “log in" to get your mail.
One way to think about it is this: in the case of email, your username, (screen name, or whatever your email service calls it) is like a post office box number, and the password is like the key. If you don't have both, you can't get your mail.
OK, so now that we understand the difference between a username and a password, let's talk about choosing a password wisely.
The two big mistakes I see people making with passwords are using an easy to guess password, and using the same password for everything.
So if we continue to think of the password as a key, you can begin to see how the two mistakes I just mentioned can be a problem. I'm going to use a kind of strange metaphor here, but I think it'll make sense: using a common, easy to guess password is like going to a locksmith and instead of buying a lock which can only be opened with a specific key, you get a lock which is so easy to pick, you can probably open it with whatever you have in your pocket.
Sounds convenient since you don't have to remember to bring your keys, but anybody can come along and try the lock and after a few attempts they'll be able to open the door.
And obviously, you can imagine the risk in using the same key for everything – your homne, your car, your post office box, etc. If a thief gets one key, he can get into everything you own.
Also not good.
So Why Should You Worry About It?
I frequently hear people say “oh, but why would they bother trying to guess my password?"
You need to realize that there are thousands of people out there who spend their free time looking for accounts and computers they can break into, all of who know exactly what the most common passwords are.
And even worse, most of them have software which tries computer after computer, thousands at a time, until they find a way in. It's like an army of criminals that flood the streets, checking for easy to open doors, looking for something to steal.
Usernames are often very easy to get (email usernames being a perfect example since they usually are either the first part of your email address, or the entire address, which is public information), so the critical information to protect is your password.
So what are some common passwords you should avoid?
Well, if I tried to list them all here, we'd be here for hours, but you can find comprehensive lists by going to Google.com and searching for “common passwords" with or without the quotes.
I'll list a few though: believe it or not, “password" is used all the time, so is “love, " “god, " people's own telephone numbers, a person's own name, or their spouse or child's name, a pet's name etc.
Out here in the islands, a lot of people use words like “aloha, " “surf, " “dolphins, " etc. which are pretty obvious if someone trying to break into one of your accounts knows you're in Hawaii (something that can usually be figured out even if the person trying to break in lives thousands of miles away).
As I mentioned, the other big mistake people make with passwords, is using the same password for everything.
Remembering that a password is like a key should help you to understand why this is a problem – like I said a minute ago, would you use the same key to open your house, your post office box, your car, your safety deposit box, and everything else you need a key for?
I would hope not.
So why would you make the same mistake with your passwords?
Here are some tips on choosing good passwords: 1. Use a unique password for every service – your account on your computer, your email account, your bank account, everything should have a different password.
2. Make sure your passwords are at least six characters long (some places require this for security reasons), make hard to guess, and you should put both letters and numbers into your password, and even better, use a mix of capital and lower case letters. On some systems you can even put in symbols like a dollar sign, an asterix, or even a space.
3. Avoid sharing your passwords with people whenever possible. I sometimes need a client's password to do my job, but while I would never misuse your password, I always encourage people to just type it in for me when needed.
4. Keep a list of your passwords in a safe place. Sometimes, especially if you have a lot of passwords, you may forget them. If your computer is “remembering" your passwords for you, you may not type them in often and may forget them for that reason.
If you ever replace your computer or need to wipe it and start over, that password information is lost. If you don't keep a physical list in a secure place, it makes it a lot harder to get up and running again.
5. Never put your password on a note taped to your screen or sitting around where people can see it. You may not think this is a big issue if the computer is at home where only you and your family can get to it, but it's a definite problem at work or in other places where different people come and go. If you're having trouble imagining how you're going to think of a different password for everything, one idea is to make up a password that is related to the site in some way, then add in some “random factor" which you use in all of the passwords. The random factor could be a string of numbers, or a jumbled up word.
The farther you get from a word you can find in a dictionary, the better. Ultimately, you're going to have to come up with a system that works for you, but if you follow my guidelines, you'll make it much harder for someone out there to take advantage of you.
Want to hear important tips like this and others that can help protect your privacy and security on your computer, as well as keep your files safe? I have this information and more in my special report “How to Avoid 7 Common & Costly Computer Mistakes ".
Worth Godwin is a computer coach with a dozen years’ experience helping computer users of all levels, and has also worked for many years “in the trenches" as a hardware and software tech, solving real-world computer problems.
Worth has also been studying the human mind, and how people learn, since the early 1990s. He draws upon all of this experience, as well as his English and writing degrees, to teach people in a unique way with explanations that really make sense.
In 2006, Worth began putting his easy lessons together on CD, helping you learn either Apple Mac basics or Windows computer basics at your own pace, for an affordable price, with a system that is both simple and easy.