Strong Passwords

In This Article “Building a better password” from Norton. Summary Passwords are the virtual keys to some of your most valuable information assets. With a little ingenuity and attention to detail, you can easily create and track rock-solid passwords.

Passwords are the virtual keys to some of your most valuable information assets. They keep the personal and the private, protecting your desktop applications, email boxes, and online shopping accounts. Yet, not all passwords are created equal, and they deserve more attention than we usually give them—both in their conception and handling thereafter. Thing is, passwords have become so common, so much a part of our daily lives, we treat them with casual indifference. As a result, we too often forgo security for convenience. We come up with weak passwords that are easy to guess. We store passwords unprotected on our desktops. We write them down and tape them to our computer screens. But, with a little ingenuity and attention to detail, you can easily create and track rock-solid passwords. You can also take advantage of password management tools to keep your virtual keys safe and to ensure your passwords operate as powerful complements to your security system, not as liabilities.

Building a better password
It’s tempting to use your birth date as your password, or your dog’s name, or even the street where you grew up. Problem is, these passwords are as obvious to hackers as they are to you. The challenge in creating a hacker-proof password is to make the password difficult to guess without making it impossible for you to remember. To create and maintain strong passwords, start with these suggestions.

Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Make sure your passwords are at least eight characters long. The more characters your passwords contain, the more difficult they are to guess.

  • Try to make your passwords as meaningless and random as possible.
  • Use different passwords for each account.
  • Change your passwords regularly. Set up a routine, changing your passwords the first of each month or every other payday.
  • Never write your passwords down, and never give them out—to anyone.

While these tips can help you build and maintain strong passwords, you also need to make certain your passwords don’t fall into an easy-to-guess category. To avoid weak passwords, consider these suggestions.

  • Don’t use names or numbers associated with you, such as a birth date or nickname.
  • Don’t use your user name or login name in any form.
  • Don’t use a derivative of your name, the name of a family member, or the name of a pet.
  • Avoid using a solitary word in any language.
  • Don’t use the word password.
  • Avoid using easily obtained personal information. This includes license plate numbers, telephone numbers, social security numbers, your automobile’s make or model, your street address, etc.
  • Don’t answer yes when prompted to save your password to a particular computer. Instead, rely on a strong password committed to memory or stored in a dependable password management program.

Advanced password composition—mnemonics
Although you can find good password storage tools, some passwords are used so often it’s best to memorize them (and besides, there are times when password management tools aren’t available—starting up your PDA in a remote location, for instance, or logging into the system where your password tool resides). Of course, in these cases, you’ll want to make your passwords easy to remember but difficult to decrypt, and that’s where a memory device can come in handy. For example, you may want to derive your password from an acronym that’s meaningful only to you. Choose a line from a favorite song or saying and use the first letter of each word as the basis for your password. If you use this technique, make sure you mix in a few numbers or symbols for good measure. Or, take two short words with nothing in common (but that have special significance to you) and combine them with punctuation or numerals, always remembering to use both uppercase and lowercase letters. Avoid using obvious or common words with vowels replaced by symbols or numbers (e.g., p@ssw0rd). And don’t use the reverse spelling of a word. Hackers have figured that one out, too. The key is to use personally significant words or phrases in unusual ways. Get creative with password composition. You may just find yourself enjoying it.

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