You take extra care to check that you locked your front door before leaving the house; why shouldn’t you take the same precautions for your online accounts? The recent news that the e-mail accounts of actress Scarlett Johansson and at least 49 other celebrities and their friends were hacked was another reminder about how anyone is vulnerable to a cyber-attack. Your password is literally the gateway to your whole world — email, banking accounts, and other personal information that cybercriminals are just waiting to poach. But there are ways to safeguard yourself from hackers and to keep the door to your world under lock and key.
1. Mix it up.
Try to use at least eight characters when creating a password, and use the entire keyboard, not just the letters and characters you use or see most often. Avoid using repeating numbers such as “123456” or “7777777” — they’re easy to guess and easy for hacking software to pick up on. A good rule of thumb is to change your passwords for e-mail, banking, credit card websites and other sensitive accounts every three months. You can even set an automatic reminder for yourself to keep you on top of it.
2. Don’t use personal information.
Your name, birthday, driver's license, passport number or other personal information can make it easier for criminals to guess your password, so keep that in mind. You’ll also want to avoid names spelled backwards and common misspellings. Microsoft has a secure password checker you can use to check your password’s strength.
3. Keep your passwords under wraps.
While it may help you remember your password if you write it down, make sure you keep it in a safe place — and don’t share it with anyone. If you save your password in a file on your computer, make sure it's protected with maximum security settings. Don’t type your password into public computers such as local libraries or a hotel lobby. “You simply don't know what state the computer is in, and who might have been using it before,” writes Graham Cluley on the blog, Naked Security. If you must, be sure to change your password when you get home.
4. Don’t use the same password for everything.
One of the most common pitfalls is to use the same password for multiple online accounts. If a hacker gains access to one, it would prove less difficult to gain access into others. Be smart and keep track of passwords you use frequently.
5. Do your research.
Websites like Facebook have 'help' sections that offer useful tips for keeping your password and accounts safe. Check out their suggestions and make sure you’re on top of any updates in service that would require you to change your account settings.