Passwords have become a common part of modern life, brought on by advances in technology. No longer confined to the realm of secret agents, passwords are now required everywhere we turn… for checking email, unlocking cell phones, blocking tv programs, accessing online banking, disabling alarm systems, connecting to file servers, using instant messaging, and even disabling screen savers.
Just as you keep your house keys safe to prevent break-ins and theft of your personal property, your passwords should be safe and secure to protect your personal and financial data. Passwords should be difficult for others to guess, yet easy for you to remember.
Following are some “dos” and “don’ts” for safe password selection. To begin, let’s cover some common mistakes that you should not make:
- Don’t select a common word for your password… if it can be found in a dictionary, it is too easy for others to guess.
- Don’t choose a password that can be easily associated with you… your spouse’s or child’s names, street name, pet names, or your birth date are not good choices.
- Don’t create a password that is exactly the same as your user name or account name… while this may seem obvious, a surprisingly large number of people make this mistake.
- Don’t select a sequence of letters or numbers such as 12345678 or ABCDEFGH or even worse 33333333 or FFFFFFFF.
- Don’t choose predictable words like secret, password, opensesame or letmein.
- Don’t send your password in an email message… but if you must do so, use encryption first.
- Don’t use the same password for multiple purposes… instead, create a unique password for each need.
- Don’t leave your password where it can be easily found… written on a Post-it note attached to your computer’s monitor is not a secure place to store your password. In fact, it is best not to write your password down at all if you can avoid it.
Here are some suggestions you should follow to pick more secure passwords:
- Do create a long password… 8 characters minimum, and longer is even better.
- Do use a combination of letters and numbers, and include some symbols ($, #, !, *, &, etc.) if the system allows their inclusion.
- Do mix upper- and lower-case letters… most password systems are case-sensitive.
- Do choose a meaningless or nonsense password… for example, the combined first letters of a multi-word phrase that you can easily remember might make a good password.
- Do use unique spellings, substituting numbers or symbols in place of letters.
- Do change your passwords periodically (a few times a year, at least).
- Do make sure no one is watching you when you type in your password.
- Do combine as many of these guidelines as possible when choosing a new password.