Something happened to me yesterday that reminded me of the importance of creating more difficult passwords, and making sure that they are well protected. When I loaded one of my websites, I saw a nasty little note from my web host, stating that my account had been suspended. Evidently, without knowing it, I had violated the Terms of Service Agreement. My host had cut disabled all of my sites, and had shut down my incoming and outgoing email. I could not imagine what I had done to violate my TOS Agreement, so I jumped on the phone to contact Customer Service.

It turns out that someone had gotten one of my passwords for an email account, logged in, and sent at least one SPAM email through my webmail account. Upon identifying it, my host shut everything down, leaving it impossible for me to get into my account to find out what was going on. In their defense, this is the procedure outlined in the TOS Agreement.

This event made me start thinking about how important it is to have good passwords, and to keep them protected. I had gotten comfortable with the same old password, using it or a slight alteration of it, for years. I have used the same password for email, online accounts, and signing up for "freebies" on the internet. Simply put, that is about the dumbest thing that you can do! It is my guess that I signed up for something, and the owner of that site went back to my email account, and tried the same password (or some alteration of it), and got back into the account, and then used it for his or her own purposes!

So, here are a few suggestions to use when making up passwords to help to make sure that you don't get hacked like I did:

  1. Do not use the same passwords on multiple accounts. This is just not a smart way to operate on the internet. You need to pick different passwords for all the accounts that you use. If you use any online financial institutions especially, make sure that each account has a different password. At least that way, if one is broken into, the rest will still be secure.
  2. Do not use easy to guess elements in your passwords. Never use things like your kids' names, or the names of pets. Anyone set on getting in to your accounts will try these things first, as they are commonly used for passwords. Also avoid common numerical strings, such as birthdays, anniversaries, addresses and especially Social Security Numbers!
  3. Use a mixture of letters and numbers. This makes passwords harder to remember, but it also makes them harder to guess. If you just add a number into your current passwords, perhaps changing only the number from time to time, it will make your passwords that much more secure. Even if someone is able to guess one element, they probably will not be able to guess a number inserted in, especially if it is completely random.
  4. Use capital letters randomly throughout the password. Most of the time, passwords will be case sensitive. If you capitalize a letter in the middle of the word, something that would not be capitalized, it will make it extremely difficult for a hacker to guess. Put 2-3 capitals in the password string, just to solidify the difficulty of the password.
  5. Use long passwords. Most people choose short passwords, just because they are easier to remember. But, if you choose longer passwords, they are harder to guess. Put two or three words together, but choose words that really don't go together. If there is no relationship between the words, then it will make them that much harder to guess.
  6. Use random strings of numbers and letters. If you use the "generate password" feature that is now available on many accounts, you will find that the password is almost always just a random string of numbers and letters (some of which will be capitalized). This provides a very secure password, because the chances of simply guessing all the elements are very slim.
  7. Do not save passwords on your computer. If you are in any kind of environment where there is the chance that another person will be using your computer, do not save your passwords in the "auto save" feature of your browser. Doing so makes it too easy for another user to hack into your account, or save your passwords for doing so at a later time.

The chances are, if you follow these recommendations, your accounts will be much more secure. However, you will not be able to remember all the passwords that you create. That will mean that you will need to have a master list of your passwords. Write them down, and keep them with you. Make sure, however, that you do not lose, or misplace this list, as it will open all of your accounts up to the finder of the list.

It is sad to say, but there is a need for hundreds of passwords if you use a computer or surf the internet today. Just remember, there are a lot of people out there trying to find out what your passwords are so that they can hack your computer, send out their spam, steal your identity, or get into your bank accounts. Protect those passwords so that your information will remain secure!