The internet has become an integral part of everyday life. Unfortunately, internet hackers are also more prevalent than ever, with more sophisticated methods of gaining unauthorized access to computers and mobile devices. However, many users make the job of hackers much easier by using weak passwords. This is especially true with WiFi, where weak passwords are similar to putting out “Welcome” mats for hackers and identity thieves.
Good versus Bad Passwords
Believe it or not, there are people who actually use “password” or some variation as their actual passwords. If that seems like a bad approach, that’s because it is. Bad passwords are passwords that are easy for either humans or hackers using malicious attack software to guess. The following list represents several categories of bad passwords
- A user’s own birthday
- Proper names
- ID numbers such as Social Security, driver’s license number or phone number
- Common words
- Popular culture references such as Hogwarts or The BeyHive
On the other hand, good passwords include a combination of random upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. However, passwords that are overly complex are often too difficult for legitimate users to remember on their own.
Best Practices for Passwords
The best passwords are those that are easily remembered (or retrieved) by a legitimate user and difficult for anyone else, including hackers and identity thieves, to guess. The list below represents some features shared by good passwords:
- At least 10 characters
- Random and unpredictable
- Unique for each site or app
- Not shared with others
Change Passwords Frequently
Perhaps the most important step in improving WiFi security is to reset your network WiFi password frequently. The more sensitive the information being protected, the smarter it is to change passwords often.
Of course, it’s a pain to change passwords every 30 or 60 days, but that’s the point. The inconvenience you endure by changing passwords frequently translates to sensitive financial or personal information being less vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves.
Using Password Managers
One reason people resort to using unsafe passwords is that they are afraid of forgetting more secure passwords. That’s understandable. Even if you have an excellent memory, memorizing different passwords for a laptop, online shopping sites, banking sites and social media is probably beyond your capabilities.
That’s where password managers come in. Password managers generate random, complex and unique passwords for every account. Many password managers also store personal identity numbers (PINs), credit card numbers and security codes and include virtual private networks (VPNs) to make online surfing even safer. All that information is included in a virtual vault, which has a single master password that you generate — that should be as secure as possible, and written down and stored in a safe place.
Password managers operate either locally on your own computer or in the cloud. While some password managers carry modest fees, others are completely free. If you no longer want to use a particular password manager, you can export all your data and try another one.
Staying Safe Online
Using strong passwords is an important aspect of online safety. But strong passwords should be used in combination with other security measures. Setting lock screens on computer(s) and mobile devices and using two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security. Accessing public WiFi networks through a VPN and avoiding using public computers for sensitive or transactions reduces the risk of unauthorized access to confidential information.