Seven Ways to Protect Your Passwords
Protecting your password has never been more important. Last month hackers compromised about 45,000 accounts on the social networking site Facebook, probably by using stolen data to send harmful links to members’ friends, security experts say. Six months earlier, Google reported that many users of its Gmail email service had been targets of attacks, apparently originating in China. Similar security breaches have affected many other organizations, including banks, hospitals, and stores.
Online attacks can have serious consequences such as identity theft, a crime in which someone steals personal information about you and uses them for personal gain. About 1 in 4 college students and young professionals say they've experienced identity theft, according to a survey by the Cisco technology corporation.
One way to avoid many problems online is to protect your passwords for every site that requires them. Here are some tips.
- Choose a strong password. Mix letters, numbers, and special characters, and make at least one of the letters upper case. Choose a password that has a minimum of 10 characters, 12 if possible.
- Make your password something no one could guess. Don’t use your name or birthday, the name of your child or pet, or other things people would associate with you, such as “young” or “boomer.” Avoid common words or phrases such as “iloveyou” and combinations of letters (“123456”).
- Don’t use the same password for all of your accounts. If you have only one password and someone steals it from you or from a website you visit, the thief can gain access to all your accounts.
- Never give out your password. Remember that reputable companies will never call or send you email or text messages asking for your password. If you get such a message, it’s probably a fake. Don’t give your password to friends or relatives, either -- even if you trust them -- because they could unintentionally do something that would endanger your password.
- Change your passwords at least every six months. You might do this when you change your clocks twice a year. Just keep in mind that many experts recommend changing your passwords more frequently if you shop, bank, or do business online, or are a heavy Internet user.
- Use memory tricks to help you remember passwords. If you’re afraid that you’ll forget a long password, try making up a funny sentence you can remember easily and inserting numbers and special characters between the words.
- Keep your passwords in a safe place and out of sight. Don’t write them in an address book or list them on a cell phone or other device you might lose. Consider keeping them in a safe deposit box or other very secure place.
To learn more about protecting your passwords, visit the Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org).