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Home > Staying Safe > Strong Passwords

Strong Passwords

For a quick read try: Passwords in a Nutshell.

Your password is the primary way that your account, webpage, or device distinguishes you from a total stranger.

Password Rules

  • Your password should be at least 15 characters long. The longer the better. Unfortunately,  some applications limit you to 10 or 12 characters; there's nothing you can do about this, but see the next rule for ways to strengthen short passwords.

  • Include as many different kinds of characters as the application allows—numbers (123), uppercase (ABC) and lowercase (abc) letters, and punctuation and special characters (!&*).

  • Keep your password private. Most organizations have rules forbidding the sharing of passwords. And make sure your children keep theirs private as well (except, of course, they should tell you!).

Password Tips

  • Don't think about someone trying to guess your password—hackers have moved way beyond guessing into "brute force" attacks. Brute force is the term used for trying every possible combination of letters, numbers, and special characters until one works.

  • The longer and stronger your password, the more difficult and time-consuming it will be for a hacker or other criminal to figure out.
  • Think about it:

    A 15-character password that uses all of the available characters has more than 4 octillion possible combinations.

    That's 4...followed by 27 zeros!

     

  • When creating a password, try to be creative. The more obscure the password, the more difficult it will be to hack. Never use passwords that include birthdays, phone numbers, or anything pertaining to your life, such as your pet's name. They can be guessed.

PASSWORD TIP

One way to create a password easy to remember but difficult to crack

1. Combine a group of nonsense words and a number or two.
2. Play around with capitalization.

Example: MONKEY8baconWagon

  • That is a complicated password, that looks crazy, but can be very easy to use.
  • You can even create a hint that you can write down: M8bW.
  • Change it up to use on a different site: WagonMONKEYbacon8. Hint:WMb8.
  • By using simply the same 4 words, capitalized the same but arranged differently, you can create 24 different passwords.

How-To-Geek has an excellent article on creating and remembering passwords.

  • Never tell anyone else your password. If your computer is in a public place never write your password down near it.

  • Use a different password for each secure application you use. That way, if a hacker discovers one of them, they don’t have access to all of your accounts.

  • Some accounts aren't that important, such as for newspapers, online games, or some message boards; they don't contain sensitive information. For those, you can use the same password if you wish because, if a hackers discovers it, you aren't putting yourself at risk.

  • Take special care to protect your passwords for popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram. Because there are so many millions of users, hackers find them target rich environments.

  • Don't take shortcuts. Type your login and password every time you need to use it. Don't let your computer auto-fill your login or save your passwords. If your password fills in automatically, malicious individuals could have easy access to all your information.

  • If you are the system administrator for a business—even a small one—have your procedures state that employees must periodically change their passwords; every three months is a common frequency. That way, chances are that even if a hacker does get their password, by the time they crack it, it will already have been changed.

Password Protected Screen Savers

  • Having a password-protected screensaver can reduce the chance that others are able to access your data. These can be set up so that they activate after the computer has been idle for a specified amount of time (10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc).

  • Leaving your computer available to unauthorized coworkers or family members can jeopardize the integrity of your system and the security of your network. Also, this could allow children to access the computer at times that you deem inappropriate. With this in mind, you should be cautious regarding who you allow to access your machine.

  • You should note however, that someone could easily bypass the password protection on some operating systems and third party screensavers with special software that exploits the "auto run" feature that most users have enabled. This bypass can be avoided by turning off the auto run feature on your CD-ROM if you are using Windows 95, 98, or ME or if you are using a third party screen saver on any operating system.

Turning on screensavers: Windows, Mac OS X

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