Password Mania!

We’ve detected suspicious activity on your account.

This phrase and its variations can strike fear into a person’s heart in ways that few others can. Is someone reading your e-mails? Do they have your credit card information? Do you use the same password on any other sites, rendering them vulnerable?

Let that last question sink in a bit. If you use the same password on multiple sites and that password is compromised anywhere, every site where you use that password is compromised.

Protect yourself with these password safety tips:

  • Use unique passwords on all your sites. As noted above, using one password for multiple sites can multiply your problems.
  • Store your passwords somewhere safe. A piece of paper with your passwords on it lying in the open is as secure as leaving the key in your front door lock. If you must keep your passwords on paper, be sure to lock it up every time you’re not using it, and consider keeping a backup copy in a safety deposit box in case your primary copy is stolen or destroyed (e.g. in a fire). A file on your computer (e.g. a Word document) is hard to secure physically, and very hard (if not impossible) to secure if the computer is connected to the Internet. If you must store passwords on your computer, be sure that the document is properly encrypted (not all password protection schemes will keep your data safe) and not left open if you leave your computer. Better yet…
  • Use a password manager! This is one of the best things you can do to keep your passwords safe, and it’s extremely convenient. A password manager like KeePass, LastPass, Dashlane, or Sticky Password allows you to easily store unique passwords for every site. These managers can even generate strong passwords for you (see below) and you’ll only have to remember one master password that unlocks the password manager itself. You can memorize this or write it down someplace secure. I kept mine in my shoe until I memorized it; it was always with me and I felt it was relatively safe there. I keep a backup copy in a physical safe in case my family needs access.
  • Use strong passwords. No matter how many different passwords you use or where you store them, if they’re weak passwords someone will eventually be able to guess them. The best password is completely random. If you’re using a password manager, this is very simple. The password manager will generate and store these for you. If you’re unable or unwilling to use a password manager, you should still use random passwords, stored somewhere safe.

Have you used a password manager? Share your favorite features in the comments!

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