According to a plethora of online surveys, 50-70% of Internet users have the same password for every single online account. While many institutions require a somewhat unique capital letter or number placement, if an identity thief happens to crack the Pandora’s Box that is your password, it won’t take long to figure out the minor variations that will unlock each account. While you certainly don’t want to react with extreme paranoia and eliminate your electronic life altogether—a feat that’s becoming increasingly difficult these days, even if you wanted to—you also don’t want to rely on the digital equivalent of a dorm-room door chain, something that can be opened with the spine of a magazine and a little correctly-applied pressure. So the next time you’re armoring your Internet accounts, here are 3 easy ways to improve the strength of your passwords:
Use Numbers Instead Of Words
Unlike words or phrases, a 9 or 10 sequence number can’t be accurately guessed by a potential attacker. As long as you refrain from using any kind of numbers from your personal life—social security, phone, etc.—you can quickly come up with something that can’t be cracked without a program of some kind. Most places will require you to include at least 1 letter, but you’re still far better protected if you fill up the remaining spaces with a number sequence you can remember, rather than a phrase or word.
Keep A Different Password For Each Account, But Keep Them Stored Without Labels Of Any Kind
If you don’t want to go the numbers route, you can still select a different word for each account. You’ll probably need to keep a list of these passwords at some point, which can obviously be disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands. Instead of documenting each account that a password is used for, try hiding the list of words in a completely unrelated document, something that’s stored in a cloud drive for easy access but isn’t likely to be attractive to curious eyes. Then, if you have an account that you can’t remember the password for, open up the document and review your hidden list of passwords; odds are, simply seeing it will trigger your memory. If not, you still have a finite amount of choices, and one of them will eventually unlock your account. Just make sure whatever you’re trying to get into doesn’t have an automatic lockout after a certain amount of incorrect entries.
Use Fictional Information For Your Security Questions That Only You Will Know
Invent a fictitious place of birth, mother’s maiden name, childhood pet, and any other answers that are asked for in your account security questions, as long as they’re easy for you to remember, and aren’t actually important for the general information in your account. This way, you make it impossible for an online identity thief to learn this kind of personal info from social media networks, online resumes, and other sources, then attempt to re-set your account’s password by answering these questions.
If you’ve actually experienced identity theft, you’re going to want to consult with a professional as you go about cleaning up the mess and resetting your life. But if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid that experience so far, and you’re looking for a few fast and free ways to beef up your security, you can’t go wrong with a few of these changes.
John is a blogger who has thankfully never experienced identity theft, although he frequently receives poorly written emails that tell him he’s won a foreign country’s lottery, and the only thing needed to collect the winnings is a U.S. checking account. He writes for identity theft insurer Protect Your Bubble, a company that can help protect your life from the prying eyes of attackers.