Data breaches and other forms of cyber-crime have hit the headlines in recent months. Criminal gangs have realized that it can be easier to make money from hacking than from drug dealing and more established crimes. This trend represents a serious threat to anyone who uses a computer, tablet device, or smartphone.
Passwords are the first line of defense against cyber criminals. In spite of warnings, millions of people use weak passwords and don't update them regularly. It's also common for a person to use the same password for multiple accounts. Password protections can't prevent all forms of cyber-crime, but they are an effective way of restricting access to devices and accounts.
The following tips can help to ensure passwords are effective.
1) Use at least 10 characters.
The longer your passwords is, the more possible combinations of characters it has. It may not sound possible, but cracking a six- or seven-character code takes just a few minutes for a cyber-criminal. Adding just a few more characters increases the possible combinations to billions, and this makes the task far more of a challenge.
2) Use a mix of letters, characters and numbers.
Using something like "Password1" to protect your online bank account access is asking for trouble. A mix of characters and numbers rather than a word is a much harder code to crack. Names and common words are particularly weak for passwords, as so-called "brute force" hacking attacks can attempt thousands of these in seconds.
3) Don't allow browsers or apps to remember your passwords.
Allowing Internet Explorer or another browser to retain passwords means you don't have to remember them, but it can also expose you to online fraud. If another person sits at your computer or picks up your smartphone, they will be able to login to any accounts on which you've used the "remember me" option.
4) Don't use the same password for multiple accounts.
An online shopping account or social media profile can be relatively easy for cyber criminals to hack. If you use the same password for these as for bank and credit card accounts, there's an increased risk of fraud and financial loss. Password manager software is an effective tool for managing secure access to a number of different accounts.
5) Don't write down or share access details.
You may have the best password in the world, but your online security could be compromised if you don't protect it. Never write passwords down. Sharing them with friends and colleagues carries risks and should be avoided.
6) Use antivirus software.
If viruses or malware infect your computer, they may be able to capture your passwords. Installing antivirus and malware protection is essential. Security software should be updated regularly and cyber criminals are constantly adapting their methods and finding new ways to hack systems.
Failing to use passwords correctly can expose you to fraud and other crime. In addition to financial losses, you risk cyber criminals impersonating you on social media and sending emails in your name if you don't secure your accounts.