Are Your Passwords Secure?

Clifton Gonsalves

It should have at least one capital letter, should not contain your first name, and should be at least 8 characters….”  No doubt everyone has heard this instruction, or something like it, so that the subject of this article is obvious–yes, it’s about passwords.

The concept of a password is not new.  In fact, passwords have been in use since ancient times.  There have been many instances in books and movies where a guard asks for a password from those seeking to enter or pass through a guarded passage.  There have been an equal number of instances in which characters were trying to steal the password in order to get through the guarded passage.

That same scenario plays out in the modern world, except that the process has grown far more complicated.   As we become more dependent on the internet, and thus the need for creating more online accounts, we have to create so many of those dreaded passwords.   Banking, paying utility bills, shopping for books, electronics and even groceries, can and are being done online.  Almost all these activities require our email ID.  If we forget our passwords to these online accounts, where are new passwords sent?  To your email account.  So someone with access to the password for your email account could have access to much of your personal, confidential information.  Thus, you need ensure that your passwords are secure.

If your passwords aren’t secure, you could fall prey to a hacker.  I’ve generated a list of examples of what not to do, so you can avoid what happened to these folks:

  • One of the easiest and commonly used methods to hack an account is to guess passwords.  To give an example, consider the infamous “News International Phone Hacking Scandal” where the employees/journalists of the New International were able to easily hack into the voice mail accounts of celebrities, politicians and members of the British Royal Family.  The victims used weak PINs that are easily guessable, or didn’t change the well-known four digit default PINs used by mobile phone companies.  How many of you have voicemail pass codes such as “1234” or “0987” or “4321”?
  • Another example of using weak passwords used by comes from “Yahoo Password Leak” case.  Some the most commonly used passwords by Yahoo users were “123456,” “password,” “abc123” and “qwerty.”
  • It would be incorrect to say that only people with technical skills are able to hack into an account.  All it takes is a bit of effort.  A good example would be of Florida resident Chris Chaney.  Mr. Chaney is not a technical person but he was able to hack in to accounts of Hollywood celebrities like Scarlett Johansson, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan , Justin Timberlake, to name a few.

These examples involved public figures, but there are many other incidents where accounts have been compromised, or are currently being compromised but not reported because they are not yet detected by the account holder.

Here are some tips to protect ourselves from someone compromising our accounts:

  • Avoid weak, easy-to-guess passwords like “abcd,” “qwerty,” or a combination of your first and last name.  You would be surprised (or would you?) by how many of us use such passwords.
  • Use strong passwords with many characters that include numbers, symbols and lower and upper case letters.
  • Change passwords frequently
  • Do not write the passwords on paper and pin on the board
  • Use different passwords for different accounts.  If you use the same password for multiple accounts, and if one of the accounts is compromised, then all accounts with same passwords may be compromised.

You might also consider applications, like 1Password, that allow you to create one strong password and then log on to any of your other online accounts using that application, thus eliminating the need to create and remember multiple strong passwords.

With technology advancing so quickly, will we ever be able to get away from using passwords?  There are lots of methods already in place, some of which are expensive.  We have seen in films like Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise was able to access a secret message only after a retinal scan.  There are laptops currently available on which you can log in only after scanning your fingers.  Such methods are catching on and maybe someday will replace the need for passwords.  Until that happens, make sure your passwords are secure.