Password Security 101

Are you overlooking one of the most essential forms of cyber security - passwords?

In our technology-centered world, passwords are used to secure everything from our bank accounts to our cell phones, not to mention our computers. Developing strong passwords is a necessary way to protect private cyber information, but exactly how to do this is up for debate.

Should we create strong, complicated passwords that we can't remember, but need to write down - whether it's stored on paper or electronically - widening the security risk of them being accessed by another party? Or should we use passwords that are simple enough that we can commit them to memory, but increasing the risk that they can be more easily cracked?

There is no exact science for creating strong passwords. Conventional wisdom from security professionals can help to set a few basic guidelines.

  1. Never simply use words that are found in a dictionary. Instead, mix characters and numbers in a way that is memorable to you. Use complex passwords of at least 10 characters, comprised of letters, symbols and numbers.

  2. When selecting numbers, do not choose ones that may be personally identifiable to you; your birthday, Social Security number and phone number are off limits.

  3. Always use different passwords for accounts that involve monetary transactions. The only thing worse than having one account cracked into would be to have all of your accounts cracked into.

  4. Do not have your browser store passwords and log-in credentials - this is especially important to remember if you are using a shared computer.

  5. To be safest, change your passwords regularly.

It is not easy to follow these rules, and try to commit passwords to memory. The rampant use of little yellow Post-it notes, cluttering all of our desktops or jammed into our wallets is a telling sign of this. Technological shortcuts, like password management software, are available. Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that passwords are vital in protecting your computer and your various accounts from unauthorized access.