Password Protection: How to Create Strong Passwords
We live in a password-driven world, where between four and 20 characters are the difference makers in whether you're able to access your data, communicate with friends, or make your online purchases. The problem is that passwords should be different everywhere you use them, and that can make it difficult to remember them all. And, if a password is truly strong, that makes it even more difficult. That's why we've put together this helpful password guide. Follow these tips and tricks to take total control of your terms for access.
Common Problems with Passwords
Use Different Passwords Everywhere
Why would you do this when it's so easy to just type "fido" at every password prompt? Here's why: If "fido" gets cracked once, it means the person with that info now has access to all of your online accounts. A recent study showed that 75 percent of people use their e-mail password for Facebook, as well. If that's also your Amazon or PayPal password and it's discovered, say good-bye to some funds, if not friends.
Avoid Common Passwords
If the word you use can be found in the dictionary, it's not a strong password. If you use numbers or letters in the order they appear on the keyboard ("1234" or "qwerty"), it's not a strong password. If it's the name of your relatives, your kids, or your pet, favorite team, or city of your birth, guess what—it's not a strong password. If it's your birthday, anniversary, date of graduation, even your car license plate number, it's not a strong password. It doesn't matter if you follow this with another number. These are all things hackers would try first. They write programs to check these kinds of passwords first, in fact.
Strong Password Solutions
How to Build Strength
To create a strong password, you should use a string of text that mixes numbers, letters that are both lowercase and uppercase, and special characters. It should be eight characters, preferably many more. The characters should be random, and not follow from words, alphabetically, or from your keyboard layout.
So how do you make such a password?
1) Spell a word backwards. (Example: Turn "New York" into "kroywen.")
2) Use l33t speak: Substitute numbers for certain letters. (Example: Turn "kroywen" into "kr0yw3n.")
3) Randomly throw in some capital letters. (Example: Turn "kr0yw3n" into "Kr0yw3n.")
4) Don't forget the special character. (Example: Turn "Kr0yw3n" into "Kr0yw3^.")
You don't have to go for the obvious and use "0" for "o," or "@" for "a," or "3" for "e," either. As long as your replacement makes sense to you, that's all that matters. A "^" for an "n" makes sense to me.
Choose something simple to remember as a password, but whenever you type it, put your fingers on the wrong keys—maybe one key to the left or right. Then a password like "kroywen" becomes "jeitqwb" or "ltpuerm." This is only going to work for non-perfectionist touch-typists. And skip this tip if you type passwords on your phone; you'll only sprain a thumb trying to be inaccurate instead of letting the inaccuracy flow naturally.
Another option is to pick a pattern on the keyboard and type based on that. For example, a counter-clockwise spin around the letter d could result in "rewsxcvf." Throw in some random caps and numbers to really lock it down.
Perhaps the easiest thing to remember is an acronym from a phrase of your choice. "We didn't start the fire, it was always burning" becomes "wdstfiwab" based on the first letters of each word.
Remember, the longer the password, the stronger it is. Always. Something more than 15 characters is very difficult to remember, but it'll be a breeze with a mnemonic.
Password Tracking and Changes
It's easy for me to say that you should use a strong password and then expect you to remember that messy non-word string of characters.
Here's a simple trick that would make your already steroid-strong password even more muscular, while individualizing it for each different website. Simply take the first three letters of the site or service you're entering and append them to the beginning or end of your strong password. On Amazon, you'd have "Kr0yw3^AMA." Your e-mail could be "Kr0yw3^EMA." Facebook would be "Kr0yw3^FAC." Notice I always use all caps for the appended letters, just to crank up the security. This can work for banks, shopping, social networks, you name it. It's like creating a thousand passwords you can remember easily.
Every few months, you should change all of your passwords—everywhere.
You could change your base ("Kr0yw3^"), which might be easy if you based it on an acronym for a longer phrase. Or you could change the appended letters by moving them to the front or even the middle ("Kr0yFACw3^" for Facebook). Perhaps switch to the last three in the service name ("OOK" for Facebook.) You could even stick in the date of the change. It's your call.
You'll be most annoyed when you encounter that select few sites that only let you have a short password of four, six, or even eight characters. What might have seemed easy before is going to soon becoming a vexing problem when you embrace the might of a strong personal password paradigm.
With these tips and your own creativity, you should be able to create very secure passwords for all of the sites you visit frequently.