Passwords. A necessary evil in today’s world of electronics and the internet. I don’t know one person who doesn’t have at least one password that they need to keep track of. Even my parents, who are older and avoid technology with a mixture of suspicion, confusion and fear, have passwords. They have no choice. It is becoming exceeding difficult to contact customer support and talk to a person. The first line of attack for problem resolution often starts with the phrase “Go online and…….”.
As I started writing this article, I looked to see how many passwords I have personally. I have over 100, and that does not include those that I manage as the Director of Technology for an organization that I support. I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I counted.
Inevitably as I begin working with a client to organize their office or improve their business processes, I find that they have a difficult time managing all of those passwords. Everyone has a general understanding that passwords should be kept secure and probably changed with some frequency, but beyond that, most of them lack a system for this process. I would argue, however, that this is an area that everyone needs to be more diligent about. A quick look at the statistics on identity theft should be motivation enough to take some action. A 2015 study found that $16 billion was stolen from 12.7 million U.S. consumers in 2014.
Here are some of the basics that you should know about creating strong passwords and minimizing the potential that they will be hacked:
- Use different passwords for your most important accounts
- Passwords should have at least 12-16 characters including a combination of at least 1 number, one uppercase letter, one lower case letter and one special symbol
- Avoid using words that are familiar to you such as the names of your family members
- Do not use any combinations of numbers which can otherwise identify you such as your birthday, zip code, phone number and certainly NEVER your social security number
- NEVER click the button that says “Remember Password”. This stores the password in your web browser
- Do not log in to financial or other important accounts unless you are on your own computer or connected to a private internet connection. Do not use public Wi-Fi hotspots or the like to access these types of accounts.
- Change your password every 90 days
- Protect your computer and other devices. See my blog “How to Protect Your Digital Information”.
I know you are thinking that it will be impossible to keep track of that many complex passwords, and changing them every 90 days is beyond impossible. Technology, as usual, has a solution. Password Managers are software applications that can help you store and organize your passwords. They encrypt your passwords for you and will therefore require you to create a Master Password to access the software itself. This is the one password that must be VERY STRONG and should be kept in a separate location that is not in the cloud. Some password manager’s will store your information on your local computer (offline password manager’s) but most will store them online. Many will allow you to sync your information between your devices, will notify you if a site you access has been hacked and will allow you to quickly and easily generate secure passwords for new accounts. They will also help you fill in account information quickly by integrating with your browser.
If you do not already have a system in place for managing your passwords, it’s time to make that happen. You really can’t afford to put this one off. PC Magazine published The Best Password Managers for 2016 and Lifehacker published a similar article called Five Best Password Managers. These will give you a great overview to get you started.
Need some help? Contact The Streamlined Office and we would be happy to provide a free consultation to get you started.