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The old saying is something like this: Passwords are like underwear. You should change them often, you shouldn’t share them and they should be mysterious. In other words, your password should be a total mystery to everyone else. With more and more of your daily activities being transitioned to the internet, your password is just as important as the data it protects.

Common Problems with Passwords

If a word can be found in a dictionary, it’s probably not a good password. If you use numbers or letters in the order they appear on the keyboard (“1234” or “qwerty”), it’s not a strong password. With the advent of social media, hackers have more and more information at their fingertips. Avoid using names of relatives, children’s names or important dates as these will weaken your overall password strength. These are items that are usually first tried by hackers when trying to exploit a system.

A recent BitDefender study showed that almost 75% of people use their e-mail password for Facebook. If someone can compromise your password on one site, they will generally use this to leverage other sites to check to see if you are a one-password person. If you use that same password on Amazon, PayPal, or even your bank account, you may be in for a lengthy struggle to get your funds back.

Creating a Strong Password

Password Length  There is typically no minimum password length that everyone agrees on, but the longer the better. Personally, most of my passwords are 12-16 characters in length. The longer your password is, the more potential changes it will take to crack.

Mix it up – Use a good mixture of different types of characters (upper case, lower case, numbers and symbols) to make your password harder to crack. The more options you include in your password adds to its complexity (PassW0rd is a lot harder to crack than password).

Avoid Dictionary Words – Stay away from obvious dictionary words and combinations of dictionary words. Any real word on its own is bad. Any combination of a few words is equally as bad, especially if they are obvious. For example, “cat” is a horrible password. “Black cat” is equally as bad.

Don’t rely on Obvious Substitutions – Avoid common substitutions, for example “c@t” isn’t much better than “cat”. Just because you mixed it up a bit, the “@” is a common replacement for “a” so it is often written into password cracking software.

Variety is King – Choose a different password for each site you visit and change them often. Try to change your password every 90 days and avoid using the same password for at least a year or so.

Recovery – Make sure you keep your recovery options updates in the event you forget your password.