How Hygienic are Your Passwords?

With so many of us relying on so many passwords every day, poor password hygiene can often seem to be a foregone conclusion. Think about your own passwords, right now, and see how they compare to this list of inherently insecure patterns that many people develop:

  • Personal details, like your name or birthday
  • Names of friends, family, or most infamously, your pets
  • Commonly used words (like “password” or a favorite sports team)
  • Simple keyboard patterns (like “12345” or “qwerty”)
  • Repeated login credentials (like username: David1973, password: David1973)
  • Making their passwords as short as possible

Now, before you zip away and try to figure out new passwords for all of the accounts that have these kinds of passwords protecting them, let’s take a few more moments to figure out how to actually come up with ones that will be secure.

To begin, let’s consider some “best practices” that should no longer be described as “best.”

Some Less-than-Best Practices

According to NIST (also known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology), the following practices aren’t all that effective any longer when it comes to secure password creation.

  • Alphanumeric Switching: So, we all (should) know that something like “password” isn’t nearly secure enough to be used as a password. As a result, many users would use “p455wO2d” instead, changing letters to numerals and occasionally playing fast and loose with their capitalization. While this isn’t always a bad strategy, using such a common password still makes it far less secure than it needs to be.
  • Length Requirements: It’s likely that you have encountered this as well, as a program has kicked back your chosen password while announcing that “it is too short/long for its eight-to-ten character limit.” According to NIST, these antiquated requirements literally short-change security, as longer passwords or passphrases are more difficult to crack but easier to remember than the short jumbles of random characters.
  • Banning Cut and Paste: For some reason, many username and password fields don’t allow content to be cut and pasted into them, almost as if the prospect of typing out someone’s account details will stop a hacker in their tracks. This also makes the use of password managers, a hugely useful tool in maintaining good password practices, less available. So long as they are used properly, password managers should always be encouraged, as they enable a user to store and use multiple passwords while only really remembering one.
  • Password Hints: We’ve all been asked to set hints for our passwords before, just in case we forget them. You know the ones: “Where did you graduate from high school?” or “What was your first pet’s name?” The trouble with these questions is simple: our online habits make this kind of information easy enough to find online, especially with social media encouraging us to share pictures of our pets, or announcing that we’re attending the “Educational Institution’s Class of Whatever Year’s Something-th Reunion.” Instead of relying on these hints, combine multiple forms of authentication to both offer additional means of confirming your identity and better secure your account.
  • Frequent Password Changes: Considering how many passwords we’re all supposed to remember, it only makes sense that users would fight back against frequent password updates by only changing a single detail about it and calling it changed. For instance, let’s return to David1973 for a moment. If this user were forced to change his password too often, it is likely that he would resort to simply adding an easy-to-remember (and guess) detail. Maybe this is the fifth time that David1973 has been told to change his password, so while his password started as “David1973,” it progressed to “2David1973” to “3David1973” and so on to “5David1973.” Of course, we aren’t arguing that passwords should never be changed, but make sure that these changes aren’t actually counterproductive.

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How to Create a Secure Password

Rather than using a password, per se, we recommend that you instead use a passphrase. Let’s use a quote by author Elbert Hubbard as our example: “Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” 

Of course, this is a mouthful to type, in a manner of speaking, so it might make sense to use some alphanumeric switching to help abbreviate it into a complex phrase that is still easy to remember.

Doing so, “positiveanythingisbetterthannegativenothing” becomes “p0$!tiV3NE+hg>-tiV3_+hg”.

Then, if you use this password as the master access code for a password manager, the rest of your passwords/passphrases could foreseeably be randomly generated, increasing your overall security even further. To make your password manager even more secure, you should really devise your own complex phrase, rather than steal one from an author.

You never know, some enterprising cybercriminal might be a big fan of Hubbard’s works, too.

For more advice and assistance to help you make your passwords and accounts as secure as possible, reach out to Aspire by calling (469) 7-ASPIRE today!

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