March 10, 2012

Change Your Clocks, Change Your Passwords

Patrik Runald

This Sunday at 2:00 a.m. many of us will be moving our clocks ahead one hour to “spring forward” for daylight savings time. We’ve all heard the suggestion that daylight savings is a good reminder to check your smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector batteries. I’d like to add to that—this is a great time of year to remind yourself to change your passwords for your email, social media, banking accounts and mobile phone.

Also, remember to change the passwords of any application or API that plugs into your credentials, like HootSuite, Tweetdeck or Twitpic.

Here are a few guidelines to get your passwords in the most secure shape:

  • Make sure your passwords are different for every site AND for your mobile phone—if a bad guy somehow gets access to your password to one, this is a very simple way to avoid letting him harvest your personal information from every account you own
  • Each password should be at least eight characters long
  • Each password should contain at least one number and one symbol, and at least one uppercase and one lowercase letter
  • Avoid using your birthday or your social security number in your password
  • Avoid very common passwords such as password, 123456, 11111, qwerty, etc.
  • The best passwords are a random string of characters, numbers and symbols—just make sure you have a way of remembering them!
  • Think you might have trouble remembering your passwords? Find a formula that works for you, whether it is a simple substitution, like “3” for “e” or a simple cypher replacing letters for numbers that is easy for you to remember. If you must keep a digital version, think about creating a document with your passwords in a file on your computer with a unique title (please don’t call it “passwords”), and change or drop the extension from the file. This isn’t going to thwart the smarter bad guys from finding it, but it is better than the little notebook of passwords in your top desk drawer.

With daylight savings, some loathe the idea of losing an hour of sleep, while others rejoice in the prospect of experiencing sunshine again at the end of a workday. But there is something we can all agree on: none of us want to experience a data breach.

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