This post is part of the series, SmallBusiness.com Guide to Business Computer and Tech Security: Advice, alerts and information about digital security threats faced by small businesses. You can browse other posts in the series below.
For data and financial protection and security, SmallBusiness.com recommends using a password management application and two-step password verification. For reasons we can’t understand, many small businesses use neither If you are among those holdouts, at least be smarter when selecting passwords. Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for choosing a good password.
The proliferation of passwords
From PINs to passwords, think of all the combination of letters and numbers you have to use for getting money from the ATM or using your debit card in a store, logging on to your computer or email, signing in to an online bank account or shopping cart. The list seems to just keep getting longer.
How to choose a password
DON’T | Don’t use passwords based on personal information like addresses, pet names, phone numbers, birthdays or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Why? Such information is easy to find on the internet.
DON’T | Don’t make a dictionary word your password. Why? While most services don’t allow multiple guesses, some still do. Software exists that can try to crack your password by using every word in the dictionary.
DO | While a password management application will provide you passwords with long and nearly impossible to remember strings of letters and numbers, if you choose to create your own password, use memory techniques (mnemonics) that will be difficult for a hacker to guess but easy for you to remember.
Example | Instead of using the word “hoops” as a password, instead us “ILTpbb” for “[I] [l]ike [T]o [p]lay [b]asket[b]all.” Using both lowercase and capital letters adds another layer of obscurity.
DO | An even better approach is to use a combination of numbers, special characters, and both lowercase and capital letters.
Example | Change the example used above to “Il!2pBb.” and see how much more complicated it has become just by adding numbers and special characters. Why? Longer passwords are more secure than shorter ones because there are more characters to guess. For example, “This passwd is 4 my email!” would be a strong password because it has many characters and includes lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and special characters. You may need to try different variations of a passphrase—many applications limit the length of passwords, and some do not accept spaces.
DON’T | Avoid common phrases, famous quotations, and song lyrics. Don’t assume that now that you’ve developed a strong password you should use it for every system or program you log into. If an attacker does guess it, he would have access to all of your accounts. You should use these techniques to develop unique passwords for each of your accounts.
A review of tactics to use when choosing a password
- Don’t use passwords that are based on personal information that can be easily accessed or guessed.
- Don’t use words that can be found in any dictionary of any language.
- Do Develop a mnemonic for remembering complex passwords.
- Use both lowercase and capital letters.
- Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Use passphrases when you can.
- Use different passwords on different systems.
How to protect your password
DON’T | Never leave your password someplace for people to find. Writing it down and leaving it in your desk, next to your computer, or, worse, taped to your computer, is just making it easy for someone who has physical access to your office.
DON’T | Never tell anyone your passwords, and watch for attackers trying to trick you through phone calls or email messages requesting that you reveal your passwords.
DON’T | Never use the same password on multiple accounts. Doing this means a criminal hacker will have access to multiple accounts.
DO | Always remember to log out when you are using a public computer (at the library, an internet cafe, or even a shared computer at your office).
DO | Change passwords regularly, at least monthly.
Share this post on your blog or via social media