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Use these tips to help you keep your financial (and other) online accounts safe.
YOU’RE PROBABLY FAMILIAR WITH these password requirements: a varying number of characters, one capital letter and one numeral or symbol. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But don’t take the task of picking your passwords too lightly.
Those characters serve to protect your privacy in all aspects of your life—emails, social feeds, shopping sites, medical records and, most important, your financial accounts. That’s why it’s critically important to choose passwords that cyber criminals will have difficulty cracking. Test the strength of your current passwords—and think about how you might bolster them—by asking yourself the following questions.
Trick question. Neither password is strong. Simple numerical strings and words found in the dictionary, even ones you don’t normally use in day-to-day conversation, are easily guessed by cyber criminals, who often use complex programs to try every word in the dictionary as they attempt to penetrate accounts. Always use a more complex combination of words, numbers and symbols.
Cyber criminals often use complex programs to try every word in the dictionary as they attempt to penetrate accounts.
Generally, the longer the password, the harder it is to crack, since the number of possibilities increases substantially with each new character added. A password with just one letter can be guessed in no more than 24 attempts. A 15-character password (without even numbers or special characters) has 1,677,259,342,285,730,000,000 possibilities.1
Using any sort of personal information (birthday, middle name, numbers in your address—even an old one) is unwise, since cyber criminals might already have access to that information through social media or other means. But if you make it part of a longer, more complex password, it can work. One example might be “Ienteredtheworldon5/2/1971.”
It’s not really a good idea. Here’s why: While it’s easy to remember those sorts of things, there’s a good chance you’ve talked about them on social media (or even listed them as favorites on some sites). One alternative is to consider picking a favorite phrase you’ll find easy to remember and choosing the first letter of each word.
That’s asking for trouble. If one account is accessed, you risk having your others compromised as well. It’s essential to have a different password for each account you create. At a minimum, you should always use unique passwords for your banking and investment accounts. And keep in mind that two is better than one: Use multifactor authentication—which requires two or more types of ID—whenever possible.
Using a password manager will simplify your life. (To find one, search for “Password Manager” in your app store.) Here’s how it works: You can store existing passwords on the app or have the password manager assign long, random and complex auto-generated passwords for every account you have. When you want to access an account, just go to the manager and copy and paste your password into the login field for the account. In many cases, you can even have the app autopopulate the login fields for you. And the best part: You’ll only have to create and remember one password—to get in to the manager.