Cute passwords are dangerous: how to make them safe

Article published 20 October 2021

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DO have trouble remembering your passwords? Have you solved that little problem by using a single password for everything? Do you realise that makes you a sitting duck for even the most dim-witted hacker?

Studies have shown that nine out of ten computer users know that using the same password across many sites is a security risk. Seven out of ten do it anyway.

Here’s how it works as far as a hacker is concerned.

Most people use a single password. Easy to remember. But then there’s the choice of password. Nothing is as difficult to pick if it can be anything, so people tend to use birthday, their partner’s, or kids’ names or … their dog’s name. All easily guessable passwords for a hacker.

And if you have written down your password on a sticky stuck to your computer, you’re making it so much easier again. Just a photo posted on Facebook with your device in the background will do nicely.

Or post a photo of your dog along with its name …

Now, if you are retired and no longer working for an organisation worth hacking, the risk of your computer being hacked reduces somewhat.

Organised criminal hackers prefer rich companies.

But … there are bank robbers and street robbers.

Maybe passwords will be replaced by biometrics at some point to gain access to your devices and the apps on them, but for the time being we have to make do with a solution that was already in use in Roman times and even before: the password.

In the meantime, here are some tips on using safe passwords. You may not want to create safe passwords for every website or app. But the important ones need to be supersafe, like the passwords you use in banking,

  1. Make your password long. Hackers use computer programs running through every possible combination of letters, numbers, and symbols to crack your password. The longer your password is, the longer this process takes. Passwords that are three characters long take less than a second to crack.
  2. Randomly mix up symbols and numbers with letters. You could substitute a zero for the letter O or @ for the letter A, for example.
  3. If there is information about you that is easily discoverable—such as your birthday, anniversary, address, city of birth, high school, and relatives’ and pets’ names—do not include them in your password.
  4. Don’t use the same password for more-than-one website or app. If you get hacked, then the damage the hacker can do is less.
  5. Don’t share your password with anyone else. Don’t attach it to your iPad, laptop or desktop.
  6. The more sensitive your information is, the more often you should change your password.
  7. You can use an online password manager, which generate and store strong passwords on your behalf. These passwords are kept in an encrypted, centralized location, which you can access with a master password. Obviously, you need a very strong password for your password manager. The downsides of online password managers are obvious. They can be hacked. You don’t know how good they are.

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