How to pick a secure password
Sean McManus, author of Social Networking for the Older and Wiser, provides some tips to help you think up secure passwords to protect your social networking accounts.
Your password is like the key to your door: it's what gives you, and only you, access to your account. So you need to make sure it's secure, and can't be easily guessed by someone else. At the same time, a random bashing of the keyboard like 'ghfkqp#didbmn15' might be highly secure, but it's not particularly memorable. Here are some tips for picking a good password:
- Don't pick anything that's obvious to people who know your interests. So the password 'PinkFloyd' wouldn't be smart if you're always seen in your 'Dark Side of the Moon' T-shirt. In particular, take care that your password isn't something that's obvious from the interests, favourite films and music that you'll be telling all your friends about in your profile later.
- Avoid picking single words that are in the dictionary. There are malicious programs that can attack your account by trying to log in with all the words in the dictionary in order. Those hacker dictionaries include lists of popular names, too, so you're no safer if you name your password after your partner.
- You can consider using a few unrelated words together to make a stronger password. So 'tractorbinfrog' is relatively secure.
- To increase the security of your passwords, include some numbers and other keyboard symbols. It makes it much harder for somebody to guess the password and even helps thwart programs that try to hack the password because it makes the alphabet you're using so much larger. An easy way to do this is to pick a word, but substitute some numbers and symbols that look a bit like the letters you're using. So 'tractorbinfrog' could become 'tr4ct0rb!nfr0g', which is still quite memorable, even though it's a jumble of symbols now. Below is a guide to some of the symbols you could use. Where you have a choice of symbol, I recommend you pick one and always use that, to avoid confusion when trying to remember passwords. You might be able to think of your own associations between letters and symbols in addition to those below, too.
LETTER TO REPLACE NUMBER OR SYMBOL THAT RESEMBLES IT A 4 or @ B 8 E 3 H # i ! o 0 (zero) oo % s $ or 5 t + y 7
- Another way to come up with an obscure password is to think of the first line of a favourite song and use the initial letters from the words in it. From the nursery rhyme 'Jack and Jill went up the hill', we can make the password 'jajwuth'.
- Take care with capital letters. It makes your password more secure if you use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, but it can make it harder to remember the password. The computer will tell you the password is wrong if you get the capitals in the wrong place, even if the letters are otherwise correct.
- The longer the password, the more secure it is. Try to have passwords of at least eight characters.
- Experts recommend that you have different passwords for different websites. It means if your password is compromised on one site, the others are still secure. They also recommend that you don't write passwords down. These experts are probably the kind of people who memorise pi to a hundred places for fun. Most people would struggle to keep up with multiple passwords. If you have to make a compromise, write passwords down somewhere safe and private, and not somewhere like a wallet where it could get lost or stolen. Keep your banking and online shopping accounts highly secure and protect them each with a unique and secure password.
- Don't forget your browser can remember passwords for you, to save you having to enter them. You should only use this feature if you have your own computer and you trust everybody using it to have access to your social networking profiles. If you have a guardian angel who's a whizz with Windows, ask them about creating separate user accounts for the machine if several of you would like to save passwords in the browser.
- Websites sometimes require you to include numbers in your password. Think of a year that's special to you and not easy to guess (what year was your favourite album released, for example?). Recent years are easier to guess and less secure.
It's not very likely anyone will try to get into your account, but it's sensible to minimise your risk. You can use these same tips for all your social networking accounts, your online shopping accounts and anywhere else you need to pick a password.
About my book Social Networking for the Older and Wiser
This article is bonus content for my book Social Networking for the Older and Wiser. Visit the homepage for Social Networking for the Older and Wiser for all bonus content, the table of contents and free chapters. For the latest news, join the Facebook fan page.