How To

How to: Keep your passwords secure

We’re using personal computers more than ever – for work, school, university, gaming and just navigating everyday life, with more and more activities happening online.

This certainly makes things convenient for us, but the popularity of online shopping and people doing so much of their banking via the internet give rise to new security risks. We need to be serious about protecting ourselves and our assets from those looking for lapses in internet security to hack into our accounts.

The most basic of these protections are our passwords – those necessary but annoying stepping stones to help us get where we want to be online.

We are constantly told to avoid using the same password for everything but remembering so many different passwords can be a nightmare. Experts say too many of us are too relaxed about passwords and use basic combinations such as ‘12345’ or even ‘password’ to access all our accounts. They may be easy to remember but they are all too easy to hack.

Some sites force us to take this issue more seriously and when we are prompted to create a password will either reject those that are too simple, or demand a combination of capitals and lower case, letters and numbers, or special characters.

The good news is that there are options out there that make the job of choosing and remembering a password easier.

Password manager tools that are usable across Windows and Mac as well as iOS and Android phones include LastPass, 1Password, KeePass and Dashlane. They all work in much the same way, enabling you to store all your passwords for various accounts as encrypted files in a database. The database is secured by a single master password, meaning you only need to remember one password, not dozens of them. Some of these tools also offer a password generator so the master password you use is super secure.

Some also enable you to save other private details in the same place, such as bank account numbers so you can autofill credit card details when buying something online.

If you are unsure whether your password is strong enough, there are free online tools which can assess it and let you know if it needs beefing up. Try Nordpass, Kaspersky or Comparitech. The University of Illinois at Chicago Password Strength Test offers a more complicated process which gives a deeper insight into what makes a strong or weak password.

Online security experts still urge us to use different passwords for each account we have, and not to write any of them down on pieces of paper or on a saved email, tempting though that might be. They also advise changing passwords regularly to reduce the risk of anyone working it out.

Many services and apps now require what is known as two-step authentication which means you need an additional code when you log into a site. This is most commonly used by banks and other financial institutions. It involves a randomly generated once-only code being sent to your email or phone which must be entered on top of the password. It may seem like another annoying hurdle to clear just to get access to your account, but a small focus on security now can save a lot of heartache down the track.

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