There are many mistakes you can make online that could cost you everything from your bank account to your job to your reputation to your relationships.
You could fall for a sob story from a guy who needs $500 for a heart transplant and promises to give you $5,000 when he gets better. You could accidentally use your work email account to apply for another job, learning later that your boss saw it.
You could email an embarrassing image or video of yourself to a friend, then discover it was posted to the Internet for the world to see. You could tell a friend what you think of your spouse, only to find that your “friend” forwarded your comment to your spouse.
The possibilities are endless. But perhaps the three biggest errors you could commit online might be failing to create strong passwords, failing to use different passwords for different accounts and failing to regularly change those passwords.
Why are those three transgressions so potentially damaging? Because if you make it easy for someone to hack into your accounts, they can do to you everything discussed above and a whole lot more.
When the bad guys infiltrate your accounts, they can rob you, harass you and destroy your reputation with your employer, family and friends.
You owe it to yourself and your family to do everything within your power to make sure no hackers get into your accounts.
And the easiest way to discourage such efforts is by creating strong passwords, using different passwords for different accounts and changing your passwords regularly.
Create Strong Passwords
Hackers love the fact that strong passwords are difficult to remember. They know the majority of people will take the easy way out and create simple passwords that are easy to recall.
Yes, it’s annoying to create and remember strong passwords, but do you want to give hackers easy access to your accounts or do you want to make it difficult for them? That’s really what it comes down to.
So, here are some suggestions to make the process as painless as possible:
Do you use any of the following passwords: “123456”, “123456789” or “password”? If so, you might as well send out a press release announcing your passwords to the world.
Those are the first passwords hackers guess when they try to get into someone’s account. Your password might be something just a little trickier, such as your first name, last name or first and last names, followed by “123”. It will take hackers an additional 30 seconds to figure those out.
Even passwords you may think are strong might not be. The U.S. Defense Department’s research agency discovered that three of the most common password patterns are one uppercase letter, followed by three to six lowercase letters, followed by two to five digits.
If those letters spell out part or all of your name, hackers will need no more than about five minutes to infiltrate your account.
The strongest passwords are the ones that follow three simple rules:
- They must include a random collection of uppercase and lowercase letters.
- They must include several numbers and symbols.
- They must be at least eight characters in length (the more the better).
Let’s say I gave you the following password for one of your accounts: “Yan#BaH7Dca&TT9.” Your first thought would probably be, “I’ll never remember something that long and complicated.”
But if your favorite song lyric were “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time,” you’d have no problem remembering the order of the letters. And if “#” and “&” were the symbols you use the most often and “7” and “9” were your favorite numbers, you’d remember them as well.
Create your own passwords using seemingly random letters, numbers and symbols that you can remember but which hackers would never guess in a million years.
Don’t Use the Same Passwords
Once you’ve created a very strong password, make a few more so that you can have a different password for each of your accounts. If a hacker somehow figures out the password to one of your accounts, he will find some of your other accounts and use that same password to see if he can get into them.
If you decide you only want three or four passwords and need to double up, at least make sure you have unique passwords for your bank and credit card accounts.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to remember five, six, seven or eight strong passwords. It isn’t. And I would not suggest writing them down on a piece of paper that you carry around in your wallet because if your wallet is lost or stolen, all your accounts could be hacked even easier than if a hacker were trying to figure out your passwords.
Fortunately, there’s help. Check out www.keepass.info and www.dashlane.com. You can keep all your passwords in a very secure, encrypted place online and access them with just one single password – for free.
Change Your Passwords Periodically
This is one place where the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply. If you’re a creature of habit like I am, you probably don’t like to change things such as passwords, especially when they appear to be working fine.
But some hackers go to great lengths to figure out passwords, including using computer programs that spend days, weeks and even months trying to capture passwords… one letter, number and symbol at a time.
So, change your passwords – even the strongest ones – every three months or so, just to keep those %*@&^!$ hackers frustrated.
One last thing. You could have the strongest passwords in the world and still get hacked if your financial institution suffers a security breach. Many of those accounts are still not accessible to hackers unless they guess your security question answers.
So, make those as difficult to figure out as your passwords. For your mother’s maiden name, use something like “The Star Spangled Banner.” For your pet’s name, use something like “Eastern Europe.” And for your favorite car, use something like “Perry Mason.”
Staying smart online could protect your money, job, reputation and relationships.