Just about everyone knows that you shouldn’t use your pet’s name or loved one’s birthday as a password, but how do you come up with a truly strong password that can foil both human and computerized hackers? The truth is, humans are bad at coming up with random, complex phrases—and even worse at remembering them.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wander in the password desert alone. Here are the tips and tricks you need to make a strong password that will keep your network, devices, and info secure.
Use a password manager
This is the easiest and most secure way to create passwords that can stand up to a potential attack. The beautiful thing about a password manager is it will make and keep track of your passwords for you—and there’s no risk that Fido or your favorite TV show will end up in the mix. Best of all, you only have to remember one password, the master password. Look for a password manager that uses local storage, rather than the cloud, so it will be less vulnerable to a remote attack. And store the master password on old-fashioned paper in a secure place like a lock box or safe.
Make extremely long passwords
If you’re going to stick to old-school password creation, make sure your passwords are long. We’re talking at least 16 characters. The safest bet is a long string of words that are not part of a common phrase. You should also mix it up with upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and some special characters.
SafeWise advisory group member and IT security expert Pete Canavan gives a tip for making difficult-to-crack but memorable (to you) passwords.
“You can use a password generator or use easy-to-remember, unique phrases to create passwords,” he says.
Using your favorite show or book to come up with a password is tempting, but it’s too personal (and not random). Simply changing out letters for symbols in your pa$$w0rd is not a good strategy—add additional characters like Canavan recommends. Stay away from common phrases too. Whether it’s a line from Shakespeare or something Kardashian-related, it’s too simple and won’t fool a pro.
Put your password to the test
Go online and find out just how strong your passwords are. You can use sites like How Secure Is My Password? to get a real-time assessment of how easy it would be for a human or computer to figure out a password. You’ll also get tips on how to make the password more complex and secure.
Don’t recycle passwords
This is one instance where you don’t want to reuse old items. Never use an identical password on more than one account, and don’t bring an old favorite back into rotation just because you’re out of ideas. If you use the same password for multiple services, that means that if one account gets hacked, they could all be vulnerable.
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more