The importance of secure passwords
There is little doubt that cybercriminals and hackers are becoming more adept at compromising personal data. In the wake of numerous data breaches – from Ashley Madison to TalkTalk – millions of unwitting web users were victims of online crime last year. We can expect more of the same this year.
To combat this rising threat, it is more important than ever to make sure you have basic protections such as good password security in place. After all, a resilient password is often the only thing standing between hackers and your personal data such as financial records, social media accounts and email inboxes.
You wouldn’t leave the front door of your house wide open, so think about protecting your online data in the same way – it needs a strong lock and key. To help you become better protected online, we have teamed up with BullGuard Internet Security to offer some handy advice on the best ways to create and bulk up your password security.
Don’t make it easy to crack
It should be little surprise that cybercriminals have a slew of tactics to breach complex passwords and gain access to personal data, including so-called “brute-force” attacks that use automated software to crack encrypted credentials. Yet often such sophisticated techniques aren’t needed as weak passwords remain curiously common.
As evidenced by the most recent SplashData report, internet users still have shockingly weak passwords such as “qwerty”, “123456” and the alarmingly simple “password”, which will all leave them vulnerable to attack. It goes without saying that if your password is one of those listed, you should change it now.
Don’t tempt fate; from a security standpoint, if you have an easy-to-guess password you may as well have no password at all.
Up the character count and embrace symbols
As a general rule, a password becomes more secure as symbols, numbers and extra characters are added. Additionally, you can throw in a mixture of upper- and lower-case characters, punctuation or even random words to bulk up protection. One handy tip includes substituting letters for similar symbols. For example, changing “a” to “@” or “I” to an exclamation point.
Another trick is choosing a phrase or short sentence you can easily remember and abbreviate. This could be a brief phrase from your favourite book or the title of your favourite song. When used alongside symbols, this is a robust security technique. “To be or not to be, that is the question”, for example, would become “2bon2bt!tq”.
Use a fresh password for every account
While it can be tempting to reuse the same password for every personal account, this will leave you exposed. Cybercriminals rely on this common mistake, hoping that one compromised credential will give them access to the rest of your accounts. To reduce the risk, it is advised to use a fresh password for every login – or at the very least the most important ones including online banking and email accounts.
If you do have trouble remembering each of the separate passwords, you can always hide the logins in a phone or address book under a seemingly normal entry. However, this does increase the risk that someone else will find the details.
If you can’t remember every password, use management software
If there are simply too many passwords for you to remember, you could use a password manager, which will store all of your credentials in one place in an encrypted format. When you log in to a secure website, a password manager will store the sensitive data, and when you return to the site in future, it will automatically fill in the details. Another handy feature for those in search of a security saviour is that software can flag weak or duplicated passwords and provide tips on how to bulk up protection.
Do take note that storing all passwords in one place comes with the risk that, if compromised, the password manager could leak everything. This has happened (LastPass, for instance) so take that into consideration before splashing out for peace of mind.
Take advantage of two-factor authentication, biometrics and other tools
When surfing the web, it’s important to use every tool at your disposal to stay secure. Adding two-factor authentication (2FA) on top of a strong password will provide an extra layer of defence.
This feature, now adopted by websites from Visa to Amazon, works by adding an additional layer of security to your personal accounts by adding email or text-message verification. This can help reduce the risk of particularly nasty cybercrime such as identity theft, phishing scams and online fraud. Furthermore, as the move towards mobile computing gathers pace, you should make use of biometric security. While still in its relative infancy, a growing number of smartphones now boast fingerprint scanners that can help protect your device from unwanted intrusion.
BullGuard Identity Protection is also an important and useful tool. It monitors the web, social networks and the dark web, searching for your private information – whether this is credit and debit card numbers, bank account numbers, passport details or phone numbers. In fact, anything you deem valuable. Simply list the details you want to protect and should it appear somewhere on the internet, for sale on the dark web, for example, you will receive a notification immediately.
The threats you face online are mounting. From sophisticated phishing attempts to stealthy malware hits to mass data breaches, it’s vital you take steps to secure the information you’re sharing online. This all starts with the traditional password; against an ongoing tidal wave of attacks, this remains the first line of defence between the cybercriminal and your personal life.