How to Create Strong Passwords

It’s important to keep your accounts as secure as possible. Even though hackers are getting craftier, that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for them. You can start with your first line of defense: your passwords.

The Internet is very different even within the past five years, let alone the last two decades. The same passwords you thought were useful in the late 90s are painfully obsolete now. With that in mind, here are a few quick tips to make sure your passwords are as secure as possible.

Use Passphrases Instead of Passwords

Part of the issue with password security comes from the length of the password itself. The shorter the password, the easier it is for hackers to crack using various programs that cycle through hundreds of guesses per second. Instead of a password, start getting in the habit of creating passphrases.

To do this, choose at least six words, ideally at random. You can use Diceware’s method for this, open a dictionary and blindly choose words from different pages, or simply look around your room and stitch a few words together. If the phrase makes too much sense (hacking programs are great at finding patterns), jumble it.

GOOD EXAMPLE: “plant house sun horse red pantheon”

BAD EXAMPLE: “the quick brown fox jumps over”

Randomize Characters within the Password

While 20+ characters in a single passphrase is a strong first step, randomizing the password’s characters can add another layer of protection. You can do this by subbing in numbers and special characters for letters. You should mix upper- and lowercase letters as well.

GOOD EXAMPLE: “pl4n+_h0us3_sUn Hors3_rEd_P4nt=3oN!”

BAD EXAMPLE: “s3cr3tPW123”

I know, I know. Having a long password is enough to remember, let alone jumbling it with a bunch of random characters, numbers, and capitalization. However, just write it down over and over until you dedicate the password to memory. Once it’s burned into the back of your head, destroy the paper and rest easy.

Make Sure to Change Your Passwords Regularly

Of course, you want to also get in the habit of changing your passwords at least monthly. The longer you go without changing your password, the less effective it becomes. Think of it like the changing of the guard in front of your castle; keep the same guards out there and eventually their patterns will be memorized by nefarious thieves who seek to do you harm.

Don’t Use the Same Password Across Critical Accounts

This one should be self-explanatory, but we’ll reiterate: if you use the same password for everything — your Facebook, your online banking, your health insurance billing accounts — you’re just asking for trouble. Since humans are creatures of habit, if a hacker finds one password, they’ll often try that one first on other accounts of yours.

Forego Automatic Password Managers

While it might seem easy to download one of the dozens of password manager apps to randomize and memorize your passwords for you, they’re not nearly as secure as you’d think. An independent study earlier this year has shown that even the most popular password managers have at least five major security flaws.

With that in mind, there’s no such thing as being unhackable. You just don’t want to be the easiest target or, if targeted at all, making it easy for hackers to get in. Stick with a few of these tricks and you’ll shore up your digital defenses that’ll make online criminals think twice before trying to break their way in.

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