With so many online accounts to manage, most people tend to use the same password for everything. Many also tend to use a very “easy to guess” password. These are two common “password mistakes” that cyber-thieves are looking for. One of the most important things you can do to stay safe online is to ensure your passwords remain private.
Passwords are designed to offer protection, used as the “key” to a door that provides access to some very sensitive personal information. If this information got into the wrong hands, financial loss or identity theft could easily occur. Password theft and identity theft is more common today than ever - due to spyware, Trojans and phishing scams. Once a password has been compromised, an insurmountable amount of personal damage can occur in a matter of minutes. The more accounts your password works with, the greater the damage. For the best security, online account passwords should be different as well as difficult.
Safe Password Tips
- Use passwords that are at least eight characters long.
- Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, and include at least one number or special character. A “special character” is something like *, &, or -.
- Never use your email password for anything other than your email account. Make sure all bank and credit card account passwords are different from each other.
- Never use your name, birth date or social security number in a password. Change your passwords from time to time, especially bank account passwords. Never store passwords in a common document file (Excel, Word, Notepad, etc…) that is not protected by encryption.
Most people tend not to use difficult and/or varied passwords, because password management can be a tedious and time consuming task. When we’re paying bills or shopping online, we want easy and instant access to our account so we can complete our tasks. It’s frustrating to get “bad password” error messages, and it’s a hassle to answer challenge questions in order to request a password reset. Because it’s nearly impossible to follow safe password practices without writing down all our passwords, the only way to securely manage passwords is to use some type of password management software.
There are two good options here, and both are easy and inexpensive. The easiest thing to do is to utilize file encryption software to protect the document that has the passwords stored on it. For this, I recommend something like Absolute Password Protector by Last Bit Software. They have a free trial version you can download to see how you like it. This software uses strong 128 bit encryption to securely encrypt any file you have stored on your computer – making it easy for you to access but very difficult for a thief to utilize. With this software, you can store all your passwords in a Word, Excel or text file and then encrypt that file to keep it secure.
Another good way to manage passwords is to use an encrypted database to store all of your password information. I use Passwords Plus by DataViz. This is designed to be used on a PDA, but I use it on my computer. Passwords Plus is easy and convenient, but the downside is you have to set up the database by keying in all your accounts and passwords. Both of these methods of password management cost around $29, and it is well worth it. Unlike a lot of software that requires a subscription to keep it functioning, password management software is a “one time” purchase.
Practicing Good Computer Security Habits Will Help Keep You Safe Online
Maintaining “difficult to guess" passwords is just one very important thing you can do to keep yourself safe online. There are many more things you can (and should) do to protect your computer and your data from cyber-thieves and malicious software. A few things to keep in mind are to use a good antivirus and anti-spyware software product, avoid downloading and installing “free" software (it usually contains spyware and/or adware) and never click links in emails that appear to come from a financial institution.
For more computer security tips, here is an easy to understand Computer Security Checklist. Even more information can be found on my blog: Computer Security for Everyone.