Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making Strong Passwords

In a previous post, I mentioned that there are “bad guys” or hackers out there looking for your password. Those people probably do not have the best intent when they do find out your password. (“Kiddie hackers” do exist and often their sole objective is to break into your system. Breaking in is the challenge for them). But they use sophisticated systems to try to guess or duplicate your password. You may not even notice that your password has been stolen until you get a call from a credit card company inquiring about suspicious activity.The following is a few steps you can use to less their chances of succeeding in figuring out your password.

Creating strong passwords is not that difficult, or at least it shouldn’t be. What is a strong password? A strong password should appear to be a random string of characters. The following criteria can help your passwords do so:

1. Make it long. Long is good. Every additional character that you add to your password increases the protection that much more. In most accounts that require passwords, they require you to have at least 5 characters. Your passwords, however, should be 8 or more characters in length; 14 characters or longer is ideal. Fourteen characters isn’t practical but it is very strong. Longer is better. Many systems do not allow the use of the space bar in passwords. The systems that do, then, are better for you because it is much easier to remember a pass phrase than it is easier to remember a password. It’s also harder for a hacker to guess.

2. Combine upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. The more variety you have in your password, the harder it is to guess. Here are some other things to consider: Upper and lower cased letters are better than only lower case or only upper case. Upper case letters in the middle of a password “surrounded” by lower case letters are better than an upper case letter in the beginning. For example raDioTune is better than Radiotune.

3. Combining a number in that same string of characters is better than the upper case in the middle. Again, you’re attempting to trick the would-be hacker. The fewer types of characters displayed in your password, the longer it needs to be. For instance, a 15-character password composed only of random numbers and letters is more than 30,000 times! stronger than an 8-character password composed of characters using the entire keyboard (OnE13oF9akin26d is much better than P*%#!FVr). Some systems do not allow you to create passwords containing symbols, so you’ll need to make it longer to get the same kind of protection. The ultimate strong password combines length and a variety of symbols.

4. Use the entire range of the keyboard. Capital letters, symbols (above numbers), numbers, odd symbols (other than number) are all good when combined with each other. Many people type in symbols by holding down the "Shift" key and typing a number Use all the symbols on the keyboard, including punctuation marks not on the upper keyboard row.

5. Use words and phrases that are easy to remember, but difficult for others to guess. The easiest way to remember your passwords and pass phrases is to write them down. For the most part, you should be more concerned about the people you don’t see than the people you do see (family and friends who may have access to your computer). Write down your password. I personally use make a list of my passwords and keep them on my computer (backing up occasionally). That way, when I need to access an account I haven’t used in a while, the password will still be there. Having said that, you still need to provide some security at your computer (depending on how well you trust your family)!

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