Install the latest anti-spyware software, check. Update your virus protection, check. Choose a unique online password . . . that's right, solid passwords are a must.
What to avoid when building your password
But what does solid really mean? It means creating a string that is not easily guessed and is not readily tied to your identity. For instance, here are some things you should definitely avoid using:
- Sequential numbers or letters (e.g., 12345, abcdef)
- Repeated numbers or letters (e.g., 77777, xxxxx)
- Your name, a relative's name or a pet's name
- Your birthday or that of a family member
Did you know that it is also in your best interest not to use the following?
- Letters that fall directly in order on your keyboard (e.g., asdfg or qwert)
- Words that are found in the dictionary in any language
- Common words with numbers/symbols instead of letters (e.g., P@ssw0rd)
- Words spelled backwards (hacking tools now know to look for these, too)
Ok, then how do you create a solid password?
Totally random is probably not the way to start. After all, you have a busy schedule, lots of things to remember . . . you don't want to have to call your company help desk, credit card provider or financial institution to reset your password.
Besides, if you wrote it down and left the note somewhere (like under your keyboard or in your wallet), you really wouldn't be doing yourself any good anyway.
The first and biggest step to protecting your password is to admit that identity theft can happen to you. It is an unfortunate reality; however, "can" does not have to turn into "will." You can make hacking your accounts a challenge with a few simple password-building steps:
- Make it at least eight characters
- Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols (if permitted)
- Think of a password trigger (i.e., My five children love to ice skate in February = M5cl2isi02)
- Create unique passwords for different purposes (e.g, health care, credit union, email)
- Don't share your passwords
- Log off applications when you're done; open sessions are an open invitation to hackers
- Change passwords at least every few months and definitely if you suspect fraud
Of course, also remember to monitor your accounts closely. Report any suspicious activity immediately.