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Passwords: what to avoid, what to do

Passwords are important and help prevent prying eyes from gaining access to your personal information. Try to avoid...

  • using the same password for multiple accounts;
  • using words or combinations of words in your password;
  • using any personal information in your password, e.g. street address, middle name, birthday, pet's name, etc.;
  • using a file on your computer (e.g. MS Word, MS Excel, text file) to store a list of passwords.

Remember, anyone intent on breaking into your account is going to use the power and speed of a computer to make their job easier.

What you can do:

Passwords made up of random numbers, letters, and punctuation are best. But these can be very hard to remember.

Find a method for managing your account logins and passwords that works for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a mnemonic as a way to remember a password. For example, come up with a phrase that means something to you, then use the first letter of each word, such as: ifmpttad (I floss my perfect teeth twice a day), or maybe use a memorable song title.
  • Consider using a program to generate and store passwords. There are many available and searching on “password manager” in your web browser will get you started. Macs come with Keychain and KeePass is a good free alternative that is available on several different platforms. With these programs, you use a "master" password to access all of the stored passwords. Just make sure the master password is very secure.
  • Consider using two-step verification for accounts that offer that level of security. Basically, in a two-step verification process, you enter your password, then you enter a code that is automatically sent in a text message to your cell phone. For someone to break into your account, they will need to know your password and have access to your cell phone. Google, PayPal, Dropbox, several major banks, and many other services offer this level of protection.
  • Whatever you do, come up with a system that makes it relatively easy for you to change passwords on a regular basis. For example, put a recurring reminder in your calendar to change passwords every few months. I also have a list of accounts (without passwords!) with the date I last changed the password.

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