Protect Your Passwords

Posted: November 13, 2012

I receive questions quite often about how to create strong passwords. I have a quick, wise-guy answer; make them difficult but easy.
OK, I should have said, “Difficult for someone else to guess, but easy for you to remember.”
We need passwords for networks on email, bank accounts, applications, shipping services — one for this program and another for that. Oh, and they all have different rules.
Many change every 90 days, often on a different cycle, and you can only repeat a password every 35 years. Plus, don’t forget all your shopping websites.
Password-based attacks — such as identity theft — are steadily on the rise, so make yours hard to crack. One other tip before we get into the details: I know it is hard to remember them all, but I do not suggest you use the same password for everything. If you do, and someone happens to get it, you have lost everything online.
First, avoid obvious passwords. Some of the top passwords in use in the U.S. are keyboard sequences such as “qwerty,” “asdfgh,” “zxcvbnm” 12345678; names of pets, kids, parents, or significant others; birth dates, street names or numbers, a car’s license plate; or an unusual word. Also, don’t spell any of these backwards.
Did any of those examples give you a sinking feeling? Also, the most common “secret” place people store their password list is under their keyboard on a sticky note.
Use combinations of letters, uppercase and lowercase, numbers, symbols (if allowed) and make sure the letters don’t spell anything. Something like “P7#tXc59T!” could be good, but remember — you have to commit it to memory. Consider substituting symbols for letters, say the “@” symbol for “a” or the letter “l” for the numeral “1.”
Always use at least eight digits, since hackers often have tools able to hack any six-character password in 15 minutes or less.
I suggest using the first letters of the words to a favorite song or slogan, combined with the year you first heard it, or your birth year, mixed with a symbol. So, a mix of “Hamburger, all the way” and “2012” could become “2H0at1w2!” Then, when you need to change it, use another song or slogan.
If you go online and search for “random password generator” you will find plenty of results to help you choose a password. My only issue with generators is that they sometimes make them so hard that you have to write them down somewhere close to your computer. That is a no-no!
One last thought: If you want to know how difficult your password is, go to and it will rate your password. There are other sites for checking them, too, but I trust that Microsoft does not record it in the background somewhere.

Contact Ron Doyle at

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