The password: It protects important personal, professional and financial information online. And we’ve all heard the warnings: Never use the same password across accounts; don’t choose familiar words or numbers; change your password frequently.
“Have these security pundits ever listened to themselves?” wrote David Pogue last year in the New York Times. Pogue went on to say that he had passwords for 87 websites, from banks to blogs.
It’s a password conundrum: How do we keep our data secure and still remember all our passwords? From good old-fashioned memory techniques to tools and apps, here are a few ideas to help.
The experts at Google say the more diverse and longer the combination of letters, numbers and symbols, the harder a password is for hackers to crack. To that end, they recommend creating a string of characters using a phrase only you know. For example, “I eat cake for breakfast” becomes “!E@tcAke4brkFa$t.”
Microsoft warns us, however, to watch out for common letter-to-symbol conversions, such as using the numeral “0” for the letter “o” or “1” for the letter “i,” as cybercriminals’ sophisticated tools can catch on quickly.
One suggestion from IDentity Theft 911 is to take a line from your favorite song or poem and use letters from that line to form your password. For example, you could turn “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house” into “TtnbCaatth!”
Since you’ll need different passwords like the ones above for each login, Google suggests each password phrase you come up with be tied to the type of site you’re accessing. So, “!E@tcAke4brkFa$t” could be the password to your favorite recipe website.
Even with the techniques above, when you’re managing numerous accounts and using more than one device, it’s easy to lose track of all of your login information. If you’re still having trouble remembering all your passwords, you have a few options:
Use a password manager. A password manager is an app or web browser add-on that securely stores your logins and passwords. You can customize it to autofill your passwords, and some apps will even generate (and remember) strong passwords for you. Some password managers also have an option that allows you to set a master password, which protects access to all your other passwords and login information. To read more on password managers and research the ones that might fit your needs, check out cnet.com’s listings and reviews for Mac and Windows applications.
Set password recovery options. Many sites have a password recovery option so you never get locked out of your account. Simply enter an alternative email, your mobile phone number or your home phone number so you can receive an automated reset link in the event you’re locked out of your account.
Go analog. You can still write down your passwords—just keep your list in a safe place away from your computer, Google says. Don’t ever store them in a file on your computer or any devices.
Once you’ve found a system for choosing strong passwords—and remembering them—you’ll be able to minimize the chances of your data being compromised.