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Tech Tip: Passwords

Aug - 20 - 2013

Passwords.  We all have them.  Lots of them!  Passwords for this, passwords for that.  Email, Facebook, Twitter, your bank account, work, the list is endless!  The majority of help desk calls I receive is for password help!  So what is the deal with passwords?

Back in 2011 my credit card information was stolen and I can trace it back to when the Sony PlayStation Network was breached.  At the time I was deployed somewhere in the Middle East and about to come home.  I needed my credit card just in case anything happened to me on my way back and for beer when we stopped in Germany!  Luckily, my bank was able to stop the phony transactions and I did not lose any money.  But at the time, my password was weak, only 8 characters long and could be cracked in only 39 days.

Splashdata compiled a list of the Worst Passwords of 2012.  Is your password on this list?

worst passwords

# Password Change from 2011
1 password Unchanged
2 123456 Unchanged
3 12345678 Unchanged
4 abc123 Up 1
5 qwerty Down 1
6 monkey Unchanged
7 letmein Up 1
8 dragon Up 2
9 111111 Up 3
10 baseball Up 1
11 iloveyou Up 2
12 trustno1 Down 3
13 1234567 Down 6
14 sunshine Up 1
15 master Down 1
16 123123 Up 4
17 welcome New
18 shadow Up 1
19 ashley Down 3
20 football Up 5
21 jesus New
22 michael Up 2
23 ninja New
24 mustang New
25 password1 New

SplashData releases its annual list in an effort to encourage the adoption of stronger passwords.  “We’re hoping that with more publicity about how risky it is to use weak passwords, more people will start taking simple steps to protect themselves by using stronger passwords and using different passwords for different websites,” says Morgan Slain, SplashData CEO.

SplashData’s top 25 list was compiled from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers. The company advises consumers or businesses using any of the passwords on the list to change them immediately.
“Even though each year hacking tools get more sophisticated, thieves still tend to prefer easy targets,” Slain said. “Just a little bit more effort in choosing better passwords will go a long way toward making you safer online.”

Here are some steps in creating a secure password:

  • Length. Make your passwords at least eight (8) long.
  • Complexity.Include a combination of at least three (3) upper and/or lowercase letters, punctuation, symbols, and numerals. The more variety of characters in your password, the better.
  • Variation. Change your passwords often. Set an automatic reminder to update passwords on your email, banking, and credit card websites every three months.
  • Variety. Don’t use the same password for everything. Cyber criminals can steal passwords from websites that have poor security, and then use those same passwords to target more secure environments, such as banking websites.

Avoid common password pitfalls.  Cyber criminals use sophisticated tools that can rapidly decipher passwords.

Avoid creating passwords that use:

  • Dictionary words in any language.
  • Words spelled backwards, common misspellings, and abbreviations.
  • Common letter-to-symbol conversions, such as changing “and” to “&” or “to” to “2”.
  • Sequences or repeated characters. Examples: 12345678, 222222, abcdefg, or adjacent letters on your keyboard (qwerty).
  • Personal information that could be guessed or easily discovered. Your name, birthday, driver’s license number, passport number, or similar information.

Having trouble remembering all those different passwords? Try using a password manager application that organizes and protects passwords and can automatically log you into websites. There are numerous applications available, but choose one with a strong track record of reliability.  Our favorite is LastPass, which we will discuss in a future article.

“It just takes a few extra moments to make a password better,” Slain said. “If you get started now and make it a resolution to keep it up, your life online will be safer and more secure in 2013.”

Test your password at How Secure Is My Password? I tested it out and it would take a desktop computer 157 billion years to crack one of my passwords.  Lesson learned from my weak 8 character password from 2011.

– billy

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