The Importance of Computer and Access Passwords

The humble password is the first line of defence in computer security. Despite all the advancements in computing technology over the years, we still haven't figured out a user authentication method that is as secure and as easy to implement as the password. Using strong, secure passwords crucial to keeping your computers secure. This is as true for the login password to your laptop, as it is for the login password to your online bank account. A weak password is like an open door invitation to hackers and identity thieves; if you use one, you should expect your computers and accounts to be compromised eventually.

The Need for Strong Passwords

Think of your computer or online account as a vast treasure chest, and the password as the wall protecting this chest from intruders. Every day, hundreds of intruders (hackers) try to scale this wall (password). A weak password essentially equates to a low wall; hackers will eventually scale it and find their way to the treasure chest hidden behind it. A strong password, on the other hand, is like an immense, looming presence - like the Wall in the Game of Thrones show. Hackers may try to scale it, but they won't succeed without a highly concentrated attack. Despite the importance as passwords as the padlock that protects your accounts and identity, many people have a very lackadaisical attitude towards them. Nothing illustrates this better than SecureData's annual list of 25 most common passwords on the internet. The top five on this list in 2013 were:

  • "123456"
  • "password"
  • "12345678"
  • "qwerty"
  • "abc123"

For a hacker, these are extremely simple to crack. In fact, most hackers won't even need to use software to crack these - they can simply type these away directly into the password box. Given this list, you can probably understand why security experts spend sleepless nights worrying about hackers, identity theft and computer security. Just a few minor changes to the way you choose your password would undoubtedly go a long way towards securing your digital identity - and helping security experts sleep at night.

How to Choose a Strong Password

Choosing a strong password is not rocket science. Follow the rules given below to create a password that will give hackers nightmares:

  • Make your password at least 8 characters long. When it comes the passwords, the longer, the better.
  • Ensure that you use at least one or two numbers.
  • Use both uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Insert a few symbols such as $, #, %, @, !, &, etc. into the password.
  • Ensure that your password never uses any sort of personal information a hacker could easily find (such as birth date, home address, telephone number, name of spouse/parents/kids, favorite band, etc.). If you do use personal information, make sure to use something that is known only to you.

Follow these simple rules and you should have a password that is extremely difficult to crack.

Making Your Passwords Easier to Remember

If you followed the five rules mentioned above, you probably ended with a password that looks something like 'A$bsi2%9'. Not very easy to remember, is it? This is why people often shun strong passwords for something that is weaker, but easier to remember. There's a trick to creating strong passwords that are also very memorable. Follow this trick, and you'll end up with passwords you'll never forget - and which hackers will struggle very hard to crack:

  • Pick a favourite quote, lyric, or verse. For our example, let's pick the first line from Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be".
  • Select the first letter from each word and write it down, i.e. "tbontb".
  • Capitalize each of these letters at random such that it doesn't follow any recognizable patterns. Example: "TboNtb" ("TbOnTb", on the other hand, follows a pattern and hence, should be avoided).
  • Add in a few numbers at random. It's okay if you use numbers that have some personal relevance to you; just make sure to keep each number separated. For example, if your favorite football player's jersey number was 17, you could use them like this: "Tb7o1Ntb".
  • Finally, for added security, throw in a couple of symbols as well. Your final result might look something like this: "Tb7o$1Ntb%"

While not exactly as memorable as "123456", this is far easier to remember than a random string of numbers and letters, especially since you're using a favorite quote or verse. Once you're done, test out your password at PasswordMeter.com. The password we just created above scored a perfect 100.

Other Password Security Measures

Besides choosing strong passwords (and urging your colleagues and employees to do the same), there are a few additional password security policies you can adopt in your workplace:

  • Ensure password forms automatically lock down after 3-5 incorrect login attempts. This will prevent hackers from trying out multiple combinations repeatedly.
  • If available, use two-step authentication wherever possible (Gmail offers this). With two-step authentication, you have to enter the password along with a special pin code sent to your mobile phone to authenticate your identity.
  • Store passwords securely. Either memorize them, or use a secure password manager like LastPass, or RoboForm to keep track of all your passwords.
  • Try to use different passwords for each of your important online accounts. This includes, but isn't limited to, email, banking, trading, and important social media accounts. Essentially, if the account contains any compromising personal or financial data, it should get its own password.

A strong password is one of the most important ingredients in computer security. Adopt these password policies and you'll see a marked improvement in your office network's security.