Password Hygiene

Password Hygiene 101: Your Gateway to Cyber Safety

Your passwords are the gates, walls, guard towers, and moats that protect your digital kingdom. Having strong passwords and practising good password hygiene habits is essential to keep all your accounts, devices, and sensitive data locked up safely away from hackers, thieves, and villains. Don’t leave cyber intruders an easy way in – build up your defences with excellent password practices.

The Importance of Password Security

Passwords act as the keys to the doors of all your digital assets – email, social media, banking, shopping, utilities, and more. Weak, reused, or compromised passwords open pathways for criminals to access your sensitive information and accounts. Adopting smart password hygiene limits your exposure and denies access.

You are your first line of cyber defence. The password and authentication protections you put in place make all the difference in keeping your data and identity digitally secure. Don’t let an easily avoidable password mistake lead to compromised accounts, stolen funds, or identity theft down the line.

Use Long, Random Passwords 

Length and randomness are the most important factors for password strength. Use at least 15 characters, but longer is better. Include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbol characters. Avoid dictionary words, names, dates, pet names, or any other common words or patterns.

Randomness beats complexity. A long, random string of letters, numbers, and symbols is far stronger than a short complex password with lots of obscure substitutions. Randomness eliminates the predictability that hackers exploit.

Every additional character exponentially increases the possible permutations. Make the password as long as reasonably possible to maximize strength against brute force guessing attacks. 

Unique Passwords For All Accounts

One of the biggest password mistakes is reusing the same password across multiple accounts and websites. It’s convenient but very unsafe. 

If one site you use is breached and your password is leaked, hackers can take that password and try it on your other accounts. Then like dominos, one compromised password leads to more account access.

Having a unique, strong password for every single account limits the damage if any one password is exposed. It keeps your digital life segmented and protected.

Store Passwords Securely

Do not write your passwords down in plain text or unencrypted documents. This exposes your credentials if that device is lost, hacked, shared, or accessed without your permission.

The only safe place to store passwords is in a highly trusted and secured password manager vault. These password managers use encryption and zero-knowledge architecture so that only you control access.

Password manager apps also auto-fill your logins on sites and apps, avoiding unsecured plain text password entry. Use them for secure storage and convenient accessibility.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an important extra layer of protection beyond just a password. It functions like two keys needed to unlock an account.

With 2FA enabled, you need both your password (something you know) and a secondary one-time code from an authenticator app or text message (something you have access to) to successfully sign in. 

This protects you if your password alone is compromised. The 2FA code always changes and rotates, stopping thieves in their tracks if they don’t also have your physical phone with the authenticator app.

Watch For Phishing and Keyloggers

When entering passwords, be extremely cautious of phishing scams trying to trick you into revealing your credentials. Beware of fake emails, texts, calls, and spoofed login pages pretending to be legitimate sites. 

Use vigilance around unrecognized senders requesting personal information or account access. Do not enter passwords on public or untrusted devices due to keylogging risks that can capture your keystrokes.

Change Passwords Regularly

Make it a habit to periodically update your passwords, at least every 60-90 days on important accounts like email, financial services, work logins, health portals, taxes, and more. This limits your exposure from previous breaches.

Setting calendar reminders can help prompt your memory to refresh passwords before they become stale. Don’t become complacent. Consistently refreshing passwords improves account hygiene.

Avoid Password Reuse 

Reusing the same password across accounts seems convenient upfront, but seriously compromises multiple accounts if that password leaks. Unique passwords are critical for true safety.

It does take more effort to manage different passwords for every account. But password managers ease this burden immensely with both secured storage and convenient auto-filling of your unique credentials. 

The slight initial friction of unique passwords pays off tremendously in limiting account linkage and exposure down the line if breached. It quarantines the damage.

Use a Password Manager

Password managers are invaluable tools that handle everything related to password hygiene – creating unique complex passwords, securely storing them encrypted, and conveniently auto-filling login forms.

Top password managers like 1Password, LastPass, and Dashlane have robust feature sets, high-security standards, and excellent reliability. The right manager trains better password habits and eases the mental load.

Letting a dedicated service handle your password generation, storage, and accessibility makes practising excellent password hygiene effortless across all your accounts and devices.

Never Share Passwords

No matter how close someone may be to you, never share your passwords with anyone – friends, family, significant others, co-workers… no one. It introduces unacceptable risks.

Social engineering attacks can leverage personal relationships to try and phish access. You alone should own your digital accounts and identity. Don’t let someone pressure you into handing over that control. 

Maintain a zero password-sharing policy across the board for true security. If someone needs account access, securely share it in other ways without exposing the credentials themselves.  

Check for Breaches

Be proactive about monitoring for breaches where your password may have been compromised. Sites like HaveIBeenPwned let you check if your accounts show up in known breach data leaks. 

If any of your logins appear exposed, immediately take action. Reset the passwords, enable two-factor authentication, and monitor the accounts for suspicious activity. Nipping breaches in the bud limit the consequences.

Use Different Emails

Registering different accounts with separate emails provides another layer of segmentation. For example, use your email for banking, a unique email alias for online forums, and your work email strictly for work signups. 

This compartment accounts and limits linkages back to your primary accounts if one email is compromised. Use email wisely to further lock down account security.

Consider Passwordless Options 

For lower-risk accounts, you can consider more convenient passwordless authentication options to reduce your overall password surface. Popular methods include SMS passcodes, FIDO security keys, and biometric face/fingerprint unlock on phones.

Just be aware SMS passcodes are less secure, FIDO keys have device pairing limitations, and biometrics have contingencies. Passwords still reign for primary auth, augmented with two-factor. But passwordless improves convenience on lower priority accounts.

Use a Passphrase 

For your master password that unlocks your password manager or computer login, consider using a lengthy passphrase. These are long strings of multiple random words at 15+ characters.

Passphrases provide great strength just through their length while also being easier to memorize than a random-character password. Just be sure to make it fully unique and do not reuse it across accounts. 

Don’t Use Security Questions

When given the option, avoid using preset security questions and answers. Common questions like “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” or “What was your first pet’s name?” can often be researched, guessed, or socially engineered.

Rely instead on a second factor like your authenticator app or FIDO security key that is not easily findable through public information or social media. Skip insecure questions when possible.

Use Virtual Keyboards

When entering passwords, use virtual/on-screen keyboards on your devices whenever possible. This protects against malware or hardware keyloggers that can capture your actual physical key presses.

Avoid typing passwords into plain text fields. Look for the option to unmask password fields and use virtual keyboards to keep your entries private. Sidestep keylogging risks.

Create a Password System 

Having a method or formula for creating site-specific but memorable passwords helps generate and recall unique passwords. 

For example, pick a consistent phrase and alter it per site with relevant character substitutions, tweaked capitalization, endings, etc. Storing these structured passwords in a manager keeps them safely accessible long-term as your system scales up.

Vigilant password hygiene is a lifelong practice, not a one-time event. Treat your passwords as the precious keys to your digital kingdom. Fortify them, protect them, and manage them with care and your accounts will remain safe for the long haul. Master password health and your master account security.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I securely store passwords offline as a backup?

Write them down on paper and keep them locked up physically. Or use your password manager’s emergency access option to print out an encoded master password list. Store this paper backup very securely in case of disaster recovery.

What are signs my password has been compromised?

If you notice unfamiliar activity in your accounts, changed settings, unknown devices signed in, or login emails from strange locations – take immediate action. These could indicate your credentials were breached. Scrutinize closely and reset passwords if anything seems suspicious. Don’t ignore warnings.

Is a longer password or a more complex password more secure?

Length beats complexity. A long passphrase of dictionary words plus symbols/numbers is exponentially stronger than a short complex password. Adding length increases the permutations dramatically against brute force while remaining memorable.

How many unique passwords should I have?

There’s no ideal number, just aim for unique strong passwords across all important accounts – email, financial services, work logins, social media, shopping, utilities, etc. Compartmentalizing passwords limits account linkages if any passwords become exposed in a breach.

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