In today’s interconnected, digital world, it’s more important than ever to understand cybersecurity and how it can keep you safe online. These days, more and more people are taking to the internet for email, shopping, and banking, among other things. This means that your personal information, such as addresses, social security numbers, and credit card details, are at risk of falling into the wrong hands.
In 2018, the U.S. experienced 1,244 data breaches, resulting in over 446.5 million records being exposed. Even large companies, such as Yahoo and Facebook, have fallen victim to data breaches. Yahoo’s hack alone resulted in 3 billion accounts being breached.
Therefore, you have to do your best to keep your information safe when you can. This starts with having smart passwords. Smart passwords are crucial to securing your data, and there are certain strategies you can take to ensure your passwords are secure.
1) Learn About How to Create a Smart Password
Many people fall into the trap of using “lazy” passwords (think: “password” and “1234”) because they’re easier for them to remember. But don’t forget, if it’s that easy for you to remember, it’ll be easier for someone else to guess it, too. A smart password needs to be longer and more complex so that it’s harder to crack by hackers looking to steal your information.
To ensure that you have a truly smart password, check to see if your password fulfills all the criteria:
- Has a minimum of 12 characters
- Includes uppercase and lowercase letters
- Includes numbers and symbols
- Avoids obvious substitutions (like the number “0” for the letter “o”)
- Is not something unique to you, like your dog’s name, your birthday or your anniversary
Some people simply hit random keys on their keyboard to create a password that fits these guidelines. However, people are notoriously bad at producing random passwords and typically end up following one of several patterns. That is at odds with making sure your password is as secure as can be.
Computers, on the other hand, are pretty good for producing truly random sequences of letters, numbers, and special symbols. It’s a good idea to use a password generator such as GIGA Calculator’s random password generator that will come up with a random combination of letters, numbers, and symbols for you to use that is essentially impossible to guess unless one has all the time in world to try and brute-force their way in, where brute-forcing refers essentially to trying all possible combinations of keyboard inputs of varying lengths.
GIGA Calculator also has a random number generator that can do the same, but with solely digits and while it will also be a random password, it will be less secure as it can be breached by guessing over a smaller search space.
2) Use Different Passwords
It’s tempting to use the same password for everything, but when you do so, you run the risk of all of your accounts being compromised in one fell swoop. Even if you rotate between the same few passwords, all it takes is one leak or hack for someone to suddenly have access to much, if not all, of your login information.
With that information, these hackers can get your bank account information, social security number, your address, etc., which often leads to identity theft. Therefore, it’s very wise to use different passwords for each of your online accounts. Randomly generating password means you do not need to worry about coming up with unique ones for each account.
If you’re concerned about remembering many different passwords, consider using a password manager like Dashlane. A password manager such as this one stores your passwords in one convenient, secure place, and then auto-fills the login information onto their respective websites when you visit those websites. It’s a great tool for those who often misplace Post-Its with passwords!
3) Write Your Passwords Down
Whether or not you use Dashlane to store your passwords, it’s still a good idea to physically write down your passwords somewhere. It may seem old-fashioned, but writing down your passwords can give you peace of mind knowing that they’re easily accessible somewhere in your office. It might even be a necessity if you’ve used a random password generate to come up with a strong password.
If you go this direction, be careful not to display your passwords somewhere easily visible, say on a sticky note attached to your monitor. You never know which guest in your house might take advantage of that information. Instead, use a journal or book that you can tuck away somewhere so it’s not easy for someone to look through or steal. It’s even better if you can lock the journal up in a safe.
Another good idea when writing your passwords down is to leave out part of the information. You can write only half of the password, put a clue about the password rather than the password itself, or leave out the corresponding usernames. This should give you just enough to help you remember, but not so much that if someone does get their hands on your password book, they’ll have the information they need to log into your accounts.
4) Don’t Share Your Passwords
It’s never a good idea to share your passwords with someone else, even someone you trust. It may not be pleasant to think about, but if your relationship sours with that individual, it could put your account at risk of being jeopardized. Of course, it all depends on the situation. If you and your spouse share a bank account, then you’ll probably know each other’s log-in information.
And, even if you have complete trust, it’s also possible that the person you’ve entrusted with your password didn’t take proper care in keeping that information secure, and now someone else has gotten a hold of it. The more people who have access to your login information, the less secure your account is.
Similarly, remember not to automatically save your password information when logging into an account from someone else’s device or a public device. When you log onto a website, you will see a checkbox or button that says, “remember me.” Do not check this box or click that button. If that device you’re borrowing gets compromised, your data can be possibly compromised along with it, regardless of how strong your password is.
5) Be Careful Using Public WiFi
In addition to being careful using another device, the same rules apply for using public WiFi. Most people love free public WiFi, especially at a restaurant, cafe or an airport. While it’s okay to use this WiFi, you should still take care to secure your data while you’re connected, since some hackers could use the WiFi to capture your personal information.
To be extra safe when it public spaces, try and use secured public networks that require some sort of log-in or registration, rather than an open, unsecured network. When you’re on public WiFi, avoid accessing sites and accounts with sensitive personal data, such as your bank account. Sticking to secure, encrypted websites with “https” rather than those with “http” in the URL is also a safer bet. And remember, never leave your device unattended!
When you use a smart password, you’re doing your job to keep your data secure. Utilize the random password generator to create a secure password for all of your separate log-in accounts.
Cindy is a freelance writer and editor with previous experience in marketing as well as book publishing. Along with her content writing for a diverse portfolio of clients, Cindy’s work has been featured in Thrillist, The Points Guy, Forbes, and more.