Security breaches aren't uncommon. Remember when more than 530 million Facebook users' personal data was lifted in a breach sometime during 2019 and subsequently made available in a public database? Instances like this demonstrate how vital it is to be prepared in the case that your information becomes compromised—and even if it hasn't.
Did you realize your outdated passwords may be putting you at risk? An important part of cybersecurity is staying up to date, so don't let an old password jeopardize you or your organization.
"Our industry has spent more than 20 years training users to create terrible passwords," said Julie Lough, founder and president of Grand Rapids-based Micro Visions, Inc. "By mandating 'complexity' rules that require a mix of letters, numbers and punctuation, we have successfully trained people to compose passwords that are ridiculously easy to guess. If you are reading this, and your password is 'Spring21!' or something similar, change it now."
Lough, who has over 30 years of experience in cybersecurity, recommends several methods for staying secure:
- Use a password manager like LastPass that keeps track of all your passwords for you (and protect it with a very long password).
- Never use the same password (or a variation of the same password) for two different services.
- Use long passwords (16-24 characters or more) and don't worry about complexity rules.
"If you are using a password manager, use 16-24 characters of upper, lower, numbers and special characters," Lough explained. "Otherwise, pick a 20 (or more) character set of words that are random and that someone could not guess if they were able to track down information about you."
Lough says many password managers will generate the password for you.
"You should also have a unique password for each site you log on to and preferably a unique user ID," Lough said.
Changing your passwords on a regular basis helps protect your information when you may not even know it has been compromised. At one time, 86% of more than 2 million breached passwords were identical to passwords that had already been breached. Avoid falling into this trap by keeping these tips from Lough in mind:
1. LENGTH AND COMPLEXITY: Keep in mind that the easier it is for you to remember a password, the easier it will be for a hacker to figure it out. That's why short and simple passwords are so common—users worry about forgetting them, so they make them too simple, presenting an easy target for hackers.
2. NUMBERS, CASE AND SYMBOLS: Another factor in the password's complexity is whether it incorporates numbers, cases and symbols. While it may be easier to remember a password comprised of all lowercase letters, it's important to mix numbers, uppercase letters and symbols to increase the complexity.
3. PATTERN AND SEQUENCES: Like the other common mistakes, many people use patterns as passwords in order to better remember them, making them easy to guess. For example, "abc123" or the first row of letters on the keyboard ("qwerty"), etc. are extremely easy for hackers to guess.
Now go change those passwords!
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.