If you don’t have a strong enough password to adequately protect your information, not only your social profiles are in jeopardy but also possibly your identity, including your name, your contacts, and even things like your banking information! Though passwords are undoubtedly annoying, we need to be more aware of the risks of not taking precautions with our online information. In maintaining an online presence, we need to invest some extra time and energy to protect ourselves and our personal information from attack. The Trustwave 2012 Global Security Report found that 80% of online security incidents were due to weak administrative passwords. Any information you put on the Internet or even just on a digital device, is vulnerable to hackers who are skilled at obtaining key information - without you even knowing it’s happening - through processes like scams and phishing (in which a hacker with malicious intent tricks an individual into entering a password by pretending to be a credible source, such as one recently that utilized a fake Google Drive landing page that required users to input their Google account login information to “access” their documents). Anyone is at risk; recently, a data breach by a Russian gang compromised 1.2 billion username and password combinations from a collection of well-known and lesser-known websites. Since we have no control over the actions of data thieves, it is crucial that we take precautions to protect ourselves and our information using the best methods available to us.

Though choosing a good password and varying its use has the potential to be annoying (nobody likes it when they can’t remember their own password), it doesn’t have to be! We’ve got easy-to-follow tips that make creating and remembering strong passwords easy and painless! 

1.  Make your passwords as long and complicated as possible, changing them up often.

Things you want to keep in mind: use letters, numbers, and whenever possible, special characters. For example: think of a word or short phrase that is significant to you and a number that you’ll remember and intersperse the letters and numbers, top it off with a special character and preface it with the first letter of the password category and you’re set!

Like this: we’ll use my favorite flower (Hydrangea) and my high school locker combination (25-31-15) yielding the password H2y5d3r1a1n5g2e5a! - then, for facebook I’d add an “f” in front of it for my email I’d add an “e,” etc.

This will create a long password that will be difficult to guess, but easy to remember because of it’s adherence to a simple formula. Have a separate password for different categories such as your email, finances, social media, commerce, and general websites of lesser concern (these can be simpler since they usually do not collect much information from you).

2. Use two-step verification

Two-step verification (also known as two-factor verification) involves two different steps to verify a user before allowing entrance to a network. This is an amazing tool to utilize whenever possible because it makes it difficult for intruders to access your information because even if they guess your password, they will not have access to the second part of the verification process. For example, Google’s two step-verification process requires first the insertion of a username and password and second the insertion of a unique code that is generated and sent to the user’s cell phone as a text message for instance. This commonly comes into play when someone tries to access your account from a new device or from a location that you’ve never been to or accessed your account from before, alerting you to possible intruders immediately.

3. Use a password manager

Password managers are readily available to keep track of all your passwords. Some password managers store your passwords as a browser extension that stores your passwords locally and synced with an encrypted cloud server while others are stored physically on something like a thumb drive that you carry around with you. Also, some password managers are free and others come with fee; of those, some are subscription based and others charge a flat fee. Because of the variety available, you can pick one that fits your needs best. Some of the best ones out there include LastPass, Password Genie, Roboform, 1password, and Dashlane. Password managers require some upfront time investment to set up, but are well worth it as they can easily store and retrieve your passwords, allowing you to create more complex passwords without being afraid of forgetting them and can be utilized and synced to be accessed on all of your devices.

4. Report Suspicious activity

Never enter your password on an untrusted/unsecured site. For example, almost every service or program has a policy that they will never ask for your login information via email, if you receive an email asking for this, report it immediately using something like Gmail’s “Report Spam” button. Be very careful opening or clicking on links in emails, as they can be easily manipulated. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you get an email from a big company, such as Amazon or Ebay, that seems fishy, chances are it probably is and trusting them can put your personal information in the hands of someone with malicious intent.