Computer Column: Choosing strong passwords for security

BY NATHAN COLEMAN

Computers are capable of securing data and access to accounts with passwords hundreds of characters long, but who has time for that?

Most of us just want to log onto Facebook and get on with our day. Unfortunately, this leads to a lack of good habits for choosing passwords, which tends to be a major issue with the average user’s Internet security. However, there are a few basic ways that you can make yourself and your information more secure.

The first way is by choosing strong passwords. Having a truly weak password like, “123456,” is basically leaving the door open for people to steal your information. But even passwords like, “joey57,” and, “limegreen727,” are extremely insecure. Hackers often use a strategy called a dictionary attack, where they guess a user’s password by going through a list of thousands and hundreds of thousands of the most common passwords.

To guard yourself against this, choose long passwords that combine multiple, unrelated words, lower and upper-case characters, numbers and symbols. For example, “tallSpider_22.tiRe$3,” is a very strong password. It’s too long to break by a brute-force method (trying every combination of characters), and too unique to crack with a dictionary attack. On top of all that, it’s somewhat easier to memorize than something like, “42kj&&a..5.” If you want to be even more secure, try changing up the spelling of words, for example, “Spydar,” instead of, “Spider.”

Besides password strength, an often-neglected security risk is that of password reuse. The temptation to use the same password for all our online accounts is great. What’s the problem with password reuse if your password is strong? Bottom line, it’s like using the same key for your car, your house, your gym locker and your bike rack. If a single one is compromised, than all of them are compromised. Instead, use unique passwords for all your accounts. That way, if a company like Facebook has a security breach, your G-mail account will still be safe.

Using different, strong passwords for your accounts is a very good idea. But what is a practical way to do this? I would recommend using a password management tool. Choose and memorize one secure Master Password, and use it to protect the passwords for other accounts.

Also many web browsers, like Firefox, have the ability to save passwords and enter them automatically for you when you enter a Master Password. There are also dedicated programs for storing passwords, like LastPass, that you can download. It’s much more secure than writing your passwords on post-it notes, and can encourage you to use strong, unique passwords.

A little bit of effort can go a long way. The amount of information, both personal and financial, that we have stored in various online accounts is staggering. If your current passwords are weak or are used for multiple accounts, simply changing them to something safer can make you and your data significantly more secure.

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