Your Digital Hygiene: Passwords

By Jon Cohen:


As children, we are taught to wash our hands, take showers, and brush our teeth. These lessons in personal hygiene help us stay clean, safe, and functional in society. Similarly, when it comes to functioning in the digital world, we also need to have a certain level of hygiene, and this digital hygiene primarily focuses on passwords. It is estimated that 85% of the world isn’t using a strong enough password online.


According to Readers Digest, these are 5 of the 20 most commonly used passwords in 2022: 123456, 123456789, Qwerty, Password, 12345. As you roll your eyes and say to yourself, ”I would never use such an easy password,” you should know that while these are part of the Top 20, it does not mean your password is any better. In this day and age, computers are working every second to hack passwords. Therefore, it would be wise to use as strong a password as you can, because you don’t want to be a victim of identity theft, lose access to email, or risk someone taking over your Facebook or Instagram account.


What Makes a Strong Password?


Obviously, it should be something that is not easy for someone else to figure out. So sometimes the best method is to use a phrase or two in combination. An example would be the two following phrases, first from the song “Push It” and the second from a Shakespeare play.


Phrase 1: Can't you hear the music pumping hard.

Phrase 2: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.


Thus a potential password could be: can’t alas you poor hear Yorick the i music knew pumping him hard Horatio.


Of course, this is hard to say, hard to remember, and hard to write, but it is strong and highly unlikely to be figured out by any human or machine algorithm.


Another way to give yourself a similar level of protection would be using a mnemonic version of the two phrases that will be equally good and hopefully easier to remember.


Phrase 1: Can't you hear the music pumping hard.

Phrase 2: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.


In this case, the password would be: CyhtmphApYIkhH, made up of the first letter from each of the words in the phrases.


Of course, if old English playwrights and early 90s rap are not your thing, then you can use any two, three, or four phrases you prefer. My only suggestion is to use phrases from different places and, if needed, you can add modifiers such as numbers and symbols (“!@#$%^&*”).


The next thing is don’t repeat passwords! When I tell people this, they look at me like I’m crazy. The most common response is. “How many passwords do you expect me to remember?” Yes, we are humans, not computers, and it is unrealistic to think that you or I could remember many of these long and complicated passwords. So it is helpful to turn to a password manager that can keep track and hold all the data for each of the websites you visit. Some of the most popular password managers are LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, and Bitwarden.



With a password manager, you only need to remember the master password (e.g. CyhtmphApYIkhH) and then the app does the rest of the hard work. And when you need a password for a website, it can create a strong password and manage it in the future. This also means you won’t have to remember many long, complicated passwords, nor do you have to worry about being hacked. These apps also sync between your phone, tablet, and computer so that you can have a high level of continuity.


Another great and less-mentioned feature of some password managers is legacy contacts. In the unfortunate chance you pass away, you can also set a legacy contact to have access to your password vault, which allows them to access, manage, and shut down your accounts as needed. It is a very useful feature, and I would highly suggest setting it up.


Thirty years ago, if someone asked for a password, you might have been opening a safe or getting into a hip nightclub in New York City. But nowadays, we need a password for everything from accessing our bank accounts, email, and social networks to ordering a pizza. Now is your chance to make sure you are safe and secure. If you want to check if your password has ever been leaked, hacked, or made available on the dark web, you check out the website https://haveibeenpwned.com, where you can type in your email address(es) and see if you have been a victim. Regardless of the results, having a strong and secure password is going to protect you now and in the many years to come.

 

Jon Cohen’s contributions can be found on radio, TV, and print media. Jon makes “geek speak” understandable for the masses and has been a voice in the tech community for over 20 years. A former “Geek Squad” member as well as an “Apple Genius,” he offers a fresh perspective on technology, photography, and social media. Twitter: @cohenHD

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