All About Passwords

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Using secure passwords is imperative to protecting your identity, bank accounts, correspondence and other information stored on the Internet, or on your electronic devices.

What makes a secure password? How can we manage all these passwords safely? It is these questions that are the subject of this article.

Password Safety Made Simple

There are a few simple rules you must follow to make a password difficult to crack by those with irresponsible or malicious intent:

  • Bigger is better: use 16+ characters.
  • Make a hash salad: use MiXed CaSe, digits (0 - 9), and symbols (! @ # $ % ^ & * - + = , . ? / ; : ' " )
  • Don't identify: avoid names, places, dates, postcodes, phone numbers, ID numbers, addresses.
  • Get weird: avoid dictionary words and common quotations or phrases.
  • Don't reuse: never use the same password for important accounts, such as your primary email, phone provider or banking: if an account is hacked, you don't want to make it easy to take the lot.

There are a few general things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • Use two-step verification if available: this requires not only your password, but a mobile phone in your possession.
  • Never tell your password to anyone, especially on the Internet.
  • Keep your software up-to-date.
  • Access important website logins from a bookmark, or by typing the address. Avoid logins via email or unknown websites, as these may lead you to a website that looks legitimate but isn't.
  • Consider changing important passwords at least twice a year.

Making Strong Passwords

Making a strong password can be tough, especially if you want to be able to remember it! We will take a look at safe password storage in a minute. In the meantime, there are a few different strategies you can use to come up with a reasonably secure password:

  • Random garble. Type a lot of keys randomly on your keyboard. For example:
    saf782h;f//dmo7s
    It's not particularly easy to remember, but it is reasonably secure.
  • Passphrase. Choose four unrelated, random words and string them together. For example:
    skittles green horse emotional
    This is easier to remember, but the key here is to make sure the words are unrelated.
  • Munge and mangle. Take a simple sentence about your life, for instance, "I have 4 tall cousins." Then mangle the letters of the words to make a password:
    IaveH*4*allTousinsC
    You can introduce a couple of symbols to make it stronger.

Safe Password Storage

Strong passwords are not easy to remember. Also, most of us are stuck with more than a couple of passwords.

There are a couple of simple solutions to this problem:

  • Use a password manager. Use a program like 1Password or KeePass, or an online service like Dashlane.
    A single master password gives you access to an encrypted password vault, where you can store all your other passwords.
    A good password manager will integrate with your web browser and make remembering and retrieving passwords easy.
  • Encrypt a text file. Use a simple text file with TextEdit, Notepad or nano.
    Encrypt the file with 7Zip or a popular file encryption utility.

Just be sure to use a very strong master password if you use either of these options; if your master password is compromised, all your accounts are compromised.

Also, make sure you keep at least one backup of your password data.

Keeping a secure copy of your passwords on a sturdy memory-stick on your keychain is a great way to make sure your passwords are always accessible and guard against unexpected equipment problems.

Though I don't recommend using an online service to store your passwords, there is no doubt it is a popular option today. Just remember that if you do use such a service, you are putting your credentials on a publically accessible, third-party system. Your safety is in their hands.

Concluding Thoughts

Safe passwords don't have to be a huge hassle. With a little thought, you can make strong passwords and there are many tools to help manage all your account credentials.

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