I know, I know…passwords are a pain. They’re hard to remember, sites keep making you change them and don’t even get me started on the process you have to go through to reset them. It would just be better if we could all use 1234 as our passwords, right? Wrong! Especially as social media sites grow more and more popular and you continue to share information on them, the strength of your password is going to become more and more important.
So let’s talk a little bit about passwords and security.
High Risk – When Your Password Is Weak And Limp
Typically, a password is defined as “weak” when it only contains a series of lower-case letters and is especially weak when it contains a commonly used word like “love”. Weak passwords are easily cracked because hackers can use what is referred to as a dictionary attack, which just continually submits your username and password with words found in the common dictionary. If you use a word that you can find in Merriam-Webster…your password is weak and you’re begging to have your account hacked. Many sites won’t even allow you to use a weak password, but there are still some that do.
So protect yourself and update that password.
A Little Better…But Still At Risk – When Your Password Starts To Evolve
You now understand that a simple dictionary password is a high risk. So would it solve the problem if you just capitalized the L in “Love”? Not really. Since the password is still in the dictionary, the hacker-bots have smartened up and have now started sending dictionary attacks first, and then following with dictionary attacks that lever case-sensitivity.
Sure, it takes longer, but your personal information is worth it to them.
Medium Strength – Fighting Back With Numbers
Yep, that’s right…fight those hackers by adding a few numbers. But be sure that they aren’t sequential, though. “Love1234” isn’t really a great password. It’s something even a Spaceball might be able to figure out.
Getting Stronger! – Adding Special Characters To The Mix
Want to make your password just a little more special and ready to resist those nasty hackers? Give it some extra-special ooomph by simply adding a special character. Something like % or & or @ makes a big difference in keeping your information safe. You can even substitute the letter S with the $ or the letter a with @ to make it easier to use.
So imagine that your elementary school was named Bradley Elementary and your current area code is 816. You can remember those two unrelated things, right? Maybe your password then becomes “[email protected]”. That’s not too hard, right?
Guess what…according to the Microsoft guidelines on passwords, you just created a strong password. Congrats!!
So What?!? Why Do I Need A Strong Password?
Hmmm…let’s think for a second. What kinds of information are you sharing on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and YouTube:
- Your name
- Your location
- Your employer and your employment history
- Your kids’ names
- Your kids’ schools (how many of their photos have their school name on them?)
- Your kids’ friends
- Where you’re going to be this weekend
- Whether you are traveling
- Whether your house is currently unattended (because you’re traveling)
- Where you went to school
- What professional groups you belong to
- Your address and mobile phone number (usually found on your resume)
- Your email address (and any alternate email addresses)
- Access to your email, both personal and potentially work email.
Trust me…you don’t want this information in the hands of someone who has bad intentions. I’ve been there, having had my blog and Twitter account compromised. It’s not a fun experience and I hope you never have to encounter it.
NOTE: A special note on why email addresses are such a problem. So what if a hacker gets your email address. What are they going to do, send email on your behalf? You could only wish. Remember that for many social networks, the magic combination is User ID and Password. Guess what…many sites allow you to type your email as your User ID. If a hacker gets your email address, they already have HALF the magic combination and now just have to figure out your password.
Hackers are working harder and harder to steal your information. More and more, thieves are become less interested in your television and more interested in going after your entire bank account. Take a minute to make sure that your passwords are protected by upgrading them to strong passwords. And if that didn’t rattle your cage enough, below is a great infographic from the folks at Veracode.com that can dive further into the detail of the necessity of strong passwords:
Have additional tips? I’d love to hear them in a comment!
Infographic by Veracode Application Security