Don’t be your own worst enemy

I have been on a bit of a rant lately with my friends and family. The subject: passwords and security. I am very concerned with the lack of security amongst my circle; there is a growing laissez faire attitude amongst them that is fraught with peril.

Identity theft should be a concern that is on everyone’s radar, and if you are lazy and only have one or at the most two passwords, you are leaving yourself wide open for a world of trouble – especially if those passwords are easy to crack.

Of course the problem is that it’s so difficult to remember your passwords. That is why so many people use the word password as their password, or 1234 as their PIN code. Let’s make it easy on the bad guys shall we?

Steve’s Password Hints

There is no way for anyone to use a unique, very secure password for all instances. Your computer and web browser help a bit, as they both have features to remember passwords and log on IDs. That is fine for things like websites but for online banking and other critical accounts we are playing with fire by not taking a very serious approach.

So here are a few tips:

Mix it up
You can really beef up a password’s strength by using numbers and symbols. A great way to do that is choose a word you will remember and substitute some of the letters with numbers and symbols that remind you of the original. For example if you were using the word “password” as a password (you would be shocked how many people do use it as their word!) you could actually type in “[email protected] — which is much stronger than the straight word.

Is it strong enough?
You can change a very weak password into a very strong one. To check and see if you have a strong password you can test its strength at http://www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/checker.mspx.

Multiple passwords
Do not use the same password for minor items, such as logging on to a news group, and major risks like your bank account. If the weaker one is compromised don’t give the bad guys the keys to the house.

Use Tools
Use the built-in tools or download password tools to help out.

Macintosh users have Keychain that helps store and retrieve passwords, Windows users can download a variety of password tools. I use Keepass (http://keepass.info/). It’s free and works great.

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Finally, Big Common Mistakes!
Don’t keep a file named “Passwords” on your computer, or keep all your passwords in one convenient file in your contact manager. Especially don’t keep the account numbers and passwords in one location or a single document no matter how convenient it seems.

I know all these suggestions are just common sense, but I also know pretty much every person reading this has had a momentary twinge of guilt! Take the next step in personal security: better passwords are free and really not that hard to come up with — and think of the additional piece of mind.

Steve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.