What Qualifies as a Strong Password?
In today’s mobile-first world, you most likely rely on multiple online tools — from messaging and payment apps to online shops and financial institutions — to handle your personal finances. However, these accounts are frequently targeted by cybercriminals intent on stealing your data, your identity, and your money. It’s absolutely vital to protect yourself by securing all your online accounts, and creating strong passwords is an excellent place to begin.
Don’t reuse passwords
Despite nearly 30% of people doing so, reusing a password across multiple accounts will badly weaken your online security. Slightly modifying passwords across different accounts is a bad idea, too. If one account that uses a recycled password gets hacked, all the other accounts that use the same password will be compromised as well.
To avoid this problem, use a unique password for each online account you have. You might not be able to remember all of these, of course, so using an online password manager tool is highly recommended. These encrypted services let you access complex, inscrutable passwords without needing to memorize a string of random letters, numbers and symbols.
The more random and complex your passwords are, the stronger they’ll be. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Stay away from personal and predictable password elements such as names, important dates, or common sequences like ‘abcde’ or ‘12345’. Even if they’re modified with special characters, these passwords are easy to decode.
The longer the better
The shorter your passwords are, the easier they’ll be to crack. Generally, eight characters has been considered an absolute minimum length for a secure password, but some institutions recommend at least 16 characters for increased security. This helps combat brute force cracking, a scheme where a hacker attempts to figure out a password by trying different combinations over and over until they hit on the correct one.
Backing up your password with two-factor authentication makes it even stronger. Along with a password, a two-factor login makes you enter a one-time code, typically sent to your phone or generated by an app. Even if a hacker has your password, they’d also need the code to break into your account. A note of caution: if you do adopt two-factor authentication, consider using an authentication app, which is less vulnerable to fraud schemes like SIM swapping than codes texted to your phone.
Check for data breaches
Even if you think you have a strong password, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t been exposed. Many password managers and websites offer tools that let you check your accounts for hacks and data breaches, or even enter a potential password to see if it’s already been used and stolen elsewhere.
Change passwords frequently
Keeping your passwords constantly changing, especially if you sign in from several computers across different networks, can greatly protect your information. Create unique, different passwords every so often to prevent hackers from saving your passwords for future use.
The consequences of using weak passwords can be severe, so take all the necessary steps to make yours as strong as possible. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to go about your online life with far greater confidence and security.