Having a strong password is one of the most effective ways to increase your online security and protect your data. It can also be straightforward, so you’d expect it to be something that almost everyone does. It doesn’t seem that this is the case … it is more convenient to use weak and easily remembered passwords.
Just imagine the potential repercussions of an information security breach and you can see that it is worth the effort to use strong passwords. Also, it doesn’t have to be inconvenient – once you have a system in place to manage your passwords it can actually save you a lot of time.
What is a Strong Password?
A strong password should be:
- unique – never use the same password for multiple websites or accounts. If one website is compromised, then attackers will quickly and easily have access to all your online accounts using the same password.
- mixed – a strong password should contain a mix of letters, numbers and special characters.
- long – the longer the password the harder it is to crack using brute force and computing power. The exact length that is considered safe changes with time as computing power improves but at present a password of at least 12 characters can be considered an absolute minimum.
- random – no dictionary words, names, birthdays or other personal information. Also, don’t use patterns on the keyboard such as “qwerty” or “12345”. Dictionary attacks render even very long passwords weak if they contain easily identifiable dictionary words and phrases.
- secret – don’t write a password on a post-it note and pin it to your computer (yes, I have seen it!). Don’t share login details too.
- changed – regularly changing passwords is a very good practice. Change important passwords every 3 months, making sure not to re-use your old passwords. If you suspect that one or more of your accounts has been compromised change the password immediately; this simple step will often be enough to deny access to an attacker.
You might struggle with choosing and remembering complex passwords, there are several tried and tested means of achieving an acceptable level of protection. Consider a nursery rhyme – let’s take “Old MacDonald had a farm ….” and you should be able to work out how that could help you to generate (and remember) the strong password “OmDh4fe!e!o”‘ – there are many other rhymes, phrases and saying for you to choose from.