In this day and age, internet users are becoming increasingly worried that their sensitive data could be compromised, and that hackers and criminals could get their hands on cash and personal information. There are various measures individuals can take to keep themselves and their data safe but one of the most important of these is devising secure passwords for logging in to websites and web services.
The need for secure passwords on the web
Nowadays, everyone is familiar with the need to enter a password when logging in to a raft of websites, or to one’s PayPal or online banking account. Right across the board, but particularly with any website or service where financial transactions are involved, it is important to make one’s password secure, so as to avoid falling victim to online fraud. But, what does “secure” mean in this context?
What are secure passwords?
Well, in the first place, you want to avoid a password that others might be able to guess. Perhaps the most boneheaded approach to devising a password is to use a simple sequence of numbers such as “1234”. Equally dumb is to use your own name, the word “password”, or the address of your residence.
It is almost as bad to use your birthday as your password, which a shockingly large number of people are believed to do. That’s because other people may know your birthday. Alternatively, they may be able to discover it fairly easily via social networking sites like Facebook.
Therefore, birthdays – either your own or those of your children and relatives – are strictly out of bounds for passwords. The same goes for using children’s or other relatives’ names. While such information may not be quite so easy to find out, you cannot bet against some cunning crook being able to do it, so you should use other types of passwords so as to protect yourself against the threat of online fraud.
Passwords involving words and phrases
The lowest level of security is provided by passwords made up solely of letters of the alphabet. If you can think up a phrase or combination of words that means something to you, but which is not known to others, you will have a password that is moderately secure. However, it is vulnerable to being hacked, because hackers can use software tools, or even just good old-fashioned trial and error, to try many different words and word combinations in a bid to crack your password. For this reason, textual passwords that are short in length are easier to crack than those made up of longer strings of text. But, really and truly, any password made up only of letters of the alphabet, however many, is far from advisable.
Passwords containing text and numbers
A much higher level of security is provided by passwords that contain both text and numbers. Adding numbers into the mix will throw hackers off the scent, especially if the numbers are random, i.e. not birthdays and the like. For even better security, the numbers should be inserted at random places in the middle of the phrase or word, not at the beginning or end.
Even better security for passwords
An even higher level of security is obtained by making use of upper and lower case text. Passwords are always “case sensitive”, so a password set as “eXample2270” will not be accepted if “example2270” is typed. Therefore, adding upper case letters will increase the difficulty of guessing or hacking the password. However, if you incorporate upper case letters into your otherwise lower case password, it is advisable to put them in unpredictable places rather than just for the first letter of a word, which is too obvious by far.
As well as incorporating upper case letters into your passwords, you can increase security even further by using characters that are neither letters of the alphabet nor numbers. Examples of such characters are the “$” key and the “&” key.
The bottom line, then, is that alphanumerical passwords, which incorporate both upper and lower case, and which also contain unusual characters, are your best bet for creating passwords that are exceedingly difficult to crack. Furthermore, where passwords fulfill all the criteria just mentioned, a longer password will be more secure than a shorter one.
Miscellaneous tips on keeping passwords secure
While we have identified what factors make for the most secure passwords, it is also necessary to say a few things about keeping them secure. Now, the downside with long and complicated passwords is that they may be awkward to memorize. The ploy that many people use is to write their passwords down in a notebook or some such, so as to have a record of the password in case it is forgotten. While this is okay in theory, the problem arises if the passwords are written down and someone else gains unauthorized access to them.
For this reason, it is extremely unwise to keep a list of passwords with accompanying information as to the websites they relate to. Any list of passwords should be disguised so that reading the password alone would not allow a thief to immediately use it to gain access to a specific website account.
Furthermore, another dangerous thing to do is to have your internet browser memorize your passwords. That’s because there is always a risk your computer might be stolen, in which case the thief would be able to breeze into a raft of websites without knowing your passwords. Although it is somewhat tiresome to have to punch in one’s password every time one visits a website, the security benefits obtained from observing such a precaution are second to none.
Finally, it is always a wise move to change one’s passwords periodically. It is perfectly possible that somebody might see you typing in a password, for example if you use your laptop in a public place, so it pays to keep hackers off the scent and change passwords every month or so. The watchword in this game is to keep them guessing at all times.