Password Management: Keeping Your Personal and Financial Information Safe

There are many ways that personal information can be compromised. We see reports of a new company data breach every few weeks. Unfortunately, there isn’t much individuals can do to protect themselves from these sorts of breaches, but there are ways to protect your information from other types of attacks.

A common method that hackers use is “brute-force attack”. Hackers systematically check all possible password combinations until they gain access to an account(s). Password complexity is the best way to safe guard against these types of attacks. Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of bad password management habits, like using the same password across multiple sites or using personal information that is easy to figure out and guess (e.g. pet’s name, birthday, address, etc.).

What makes a good password?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Length – Most sites require 8 characters at the very least, but the longer the better. Shoot for 12-15 or even more to provide enhanced security.
  • Mix it up – Don’t just use real words or phrases. Use upper case, lower case, numbers, symbols and spaces.
  • Separate Numbers and Special Characters – Don’t place them all at the beginning or end of the password. Everyone does that and the hackers are counting that on. If they are spread throughout the password it is harder for hackers to crack.
  • Don’t reuse passwords – we have all been guilty of this in the past, but best practice is to have to have a different password for every account.

How can you possibly remember a complex password for every account that you have?

The best solution is a password manager. These are generally very low cost and simple solutions, and there are even some free options that still work well but have less features. Some suggestions would be LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password. A password manager allows you to store all your passwords securely by using a very secure master password that you specify. The trick is coming up with a password you can remember but is complicated enough that it can’t be guessed. Once you log in with your secure master password you have access to every password you have saved; it can auto fill usernames and passwords for you both on your computer and mobile device. Note: these services only protect you if you have a very strong master password and follow the password tips outlined above.

Why shouldn’t I use a browser password manager?

Although tempting, do not use your browser to manage your passwords for you; these are just not secure enough. For example, if you use Google Chrome as your browser and are currently using it for your passwords, all that is needed is your password to your Google account and a hacker can gain access to all your passwords.

What’s wrong with a simple, old-fashioned, password list?

With numerous passwords, many people opt to writing them down or saving them in an excel or word document.  However, it is easy for someone to secure paper copies or digital copies of these lists.

Password management can be a tedious task, at least initially, but once you have a system in place it is well worth the effort. Having strong passwords for your accounts, especially your financial accounts is the best way that you can protect yourself from hackers.