2013-06-14 / Columnists

Your Life And Privacy

Don’t Pass on a Strong Password
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

In the future, passwords as we know them today — strings of letters, numbers and symbols we choose — will become obsolete, replaced or supplemented by biometric identifiers. As biometric technologies evolve, we will be authenticated through analysis of our physical characteristics, like our fingerprints, voice, and facial attributes.

While biometric technologies may soon be in use in the consumer electronics area (an iPhone user may be able to use her/his fingerprint to unlock her/his phone), existing biometrics generally present accuracy and vulnerability issues. We are still dependent on our old-fashioned passwords.

Unfortunately, experts warn that the security of our passwords is becoming weaker. As passwords are often the only thing that protects our information, we need to create ones that are tough enough to keep intruders away.

Here are twelve tips to a tougher password:

1. Don’t use words found in the dictionary or personal information (like pet names,
part of an address, or a family name). These are easy for hackers to figure out.

2. Don’t use common numerical or alphabetical sequences (like 56789, or abcde, or
qwerty).
3. Use a mix of symbols, numbers, and lower and uppercase letters.
4. The longer the password, the better: use at least eight characters.
5. Change passwords frequently, and don’t reuse old ones.
6. Don’t use the same password for all of your services. If one account is hacked,
all of them will be vulnerable.
7. If your account is subject to a data breach, and the password for the breached
account is the same as for other accounts, change all of these passwords.
8. If somebody besides you must use one of your password-protected accounts, create a temporary password for their use. Change it back as soon as they’re done.
9. Don’t enter passwords on computers that are not yours, because there could be
software (spyware or a keylogger) on that computer waiting to capture your
password.
10. Don’t check a “remember password” box. A data breach could make your password vulnerable if it turns out proper security precautions are not in place.
11. Don’t access password-protected accounts over public unencrypted wireless networks or untrustworthy networks.
12. Keep track of all of your different passwords by writing them down and storing them in a secure place. Consider writing them in a code that makes sense
to you. Don’t put them into a file on your computer in plain text, or write them
on a post-it stuck to your monitor. Don’t send them via email!

Better yet, consider using a “password manager.” A password manager is a software program secured by a master password. It stores all of your passwords and automatically fills them in as needed for your various services. The password manager remembers your login credentials for you, so you can make all of your passwords very strong without memorizing them. (Just a couple of examples of password managers are LastPass and SplashID Safe, but there are many others; I don’t endorse any in particular.)

The stronger your password, the safer your account will be from intruders.

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