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ResultsKatalyst Newsletter - ResultsKatalyst September 2007

Don CranfordKeeping Safe: The Importance of Good Passwords

Tip of the Month: September 2007
By Don Cranford

Why Are Good Passwords Important?

Passwords are the first line of defense that we have to protect ourselves from hackers and others who have ill intentions.

Let’s be honest. Passwords are just plain annoying, a necessary evil as some would say. Unfortunately, they are the first line of defense that we have to protect ourselves from hackers and others who have ill intentions. If a hacker cracks your password, he or she can wreak all kinds of havoc, from defacing your website, to accessing your bank accounts, or even using your information to set up new credit card accounts or apply for loans.

Fortunately, it isn’t that hard to create a good, memorable password. With a few simple ideas you can keep those hackers at bay. In this Tip of the Month, we will tell you how to make a strong password, what to avoid, and how to make it memorable.

What makes a good password?

  • It should be easy to remember (You don’t want to write it down.)
  • Use at least 8 characters (the longer the more secure)
  • Use a mixture of characters (most are case sensitive):
    • Upper case letters (A – Z)
    • Lower case letters (a – z)
    • One or more numbers
    • At least one or two special characters, such as a $ or * or !

What to avoid in creating a password

  • Names of any kind. These include your login name, your own or a family member’s name, a pet’s name, or any proper name.
  • Any kind of personal information, specifically your phone number, address, birthday, license plate number, or anything else someone could guess or look up about you. It also includes sensitive information such as your ATM PIN, or social security number or credit card number.
  • Words contained in the dictionary or foreign language dictionary. By all means, never, ever use the word password or Password and avoid words that can be found in the dictionary.
  • Sequences or repeated characters. Avoid sequences or repeated characters such as 22222 or 12345 or abc123 or asdfg.

Other good safety practices

Don’t give hackers free reign over your valuable information. Make them work hard and end up empty-handed.

  • Never write your password on a sticky and put it on your monitor or under your keyboard.
  • Don’t ever share your password with anyone.
  • Don’t use the same password for all the sites you visit.
  • Change your password periodically. The more important the information you are protecting, the more frequently you should change the password.
  • Always change the default system password. Never leave it as the default.

Make it memorable

Now that you know how to make a good, strong password, how do you remember it without writing it down? One favorite trick is to use a pass phrase. You can take a favorite quote, a line from a song, or a Bible verse and use the first letter or each word and possibly change a few of the letters with characters.

For example, you could take the first part of a Bible verse such as John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” and make it: j316fGsLtw*. Or Benjamin Franklin's quote “A penny saved is a penny earned.” That password would be ApsiApe*BF.

One final note: Though passwords are critical, you should consider making your login name a bit more difficult to guess as well. But as you become more comfortable with these various tips, you’ll find that you computer is safer than it’s ever been. We encourage you to update your current passwords. Don’t give hackers free reign over your valuable information. Make them work hard and end up empty-handed.

How can hackers break your password?

There are many ways that someone can figure out your password. Here are a few examples:

  • Brute Force attack. Ultimately, any password can be broken. Given enough time and computing cycles, hackers can work through enough different combinations of characters to find your password. The trick is to make it as difficult as possible. The longer and more random your password, the better.
  • Dictionary attack. Words in a dictionary are tried until they figure out what one you have used.
  • Personal attacks. Hackers can try personal information such as your name, family member’s name, or pet’s name or your phone number or address.
  • Insider attacks. Someone at work, maybe a co-worker, a visitor, or cleaning staff, can see it attached to your monitor or next to your keyboard.
  • You give it to someone. Once you give it away, you don’t know what they’ll do. They may write it down next to their monitor.

Donald Cranford has been in Marketing, Product Development and Product Management in the technology industry for 14 years. He founded Katalyst Solutions in 2004 to assist small businesses, non-profits, and churches in succeeding online.

 

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