To more fully protect yourself from identity theft this holiday season and throughout the year, you need to create secure passwords for your accounts. As mentioned in 9 Ways to guard against identity theft, the state of Florida has the highest per capita rate of identity theft in the United States, with a Fort Lauderdale Police Department suburb getting more identity theft complaints than any other crime. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a non-profit organization committed to educating the public about identity theft recommends taking the following steps when creating a password:
- Passwords should contain at least eight characters.
- Choose a combination of at least three of these four different types of characters: upper case letters (ABC), lower case letters (abc), numbers (184), and special characters (such as: !#$%&*_=+? ).
- If there is only one capital letter or special character, it should not be the first or last character in the password. Correct Example: iH82wkl8 (I hate to work late).
- Avoid using a name, slang word, or any word in the dictionary. There are computer programs that can run through entire dictionaries looking for your password. It should not include any part of your name or your e-mail address. Example: ‘banaPPle’ (short for banana apple).
- Choose a strong password for sites where you care about the privacy of the information you store. You can take a sentence and turn it into a password. For instance, ‘This little piggy went to market’ might become ‘tlpWENT2m.’
- Use a different password for all sites, even for the ones where privacy isn’t an issue.
- Never trust a third party with your important passwords (webmail, banking, medical etc.)
- Never write down your passwords in a phone book, in an unencrypted/password protected file on your laptop, computer or other electronic device, like a PDA.
- A password should never be your favorite whatever, pet’s name, nickname, phone number, birth date, or something that a person could learn from your social networking profiles or an Internet search.
- If you must have sensitive information on your computer, invest in a biometric device such as a fingerprint reader in order to form a two-factor authentication control and encryption capability.
In order to store your passwords for multiple accounts safely, ITRC recommends the following:
Use one of the many systems developed to help consumers store their passwords. There are several choices on the market, should you decide to go with a computer based system to store passwords. The different types are listed below:
- Software Application: The good things about this system are that passwords cannot be accessed remotely through the Internet and therefore have an extra bit of security. Many of the programs will help create very strong passwords. However, if the device is stolen (laptop, tablet, SmartPhone) the stored passwords become vulnerable.
- Internet Based: This is a helpful system if you need to be able to access your passwords from multiple computers. However, the risk of using this is that all your passwords will be protected by only one master password. This could make it easier for a hacker to access your information. It also means that the information can be accessed from anywhere an Internet connection is available.
If you are uncomfortable using a password protection product you have the option of storing your passwords in documents. You can do this one of two ways:
- In a document on your computer system: Many people have taken to storing their passwords in a Word or Excel document. If you do this you should title the document something other than ‘Passwords’ so that if your system is compromised, discovery of the document would be more difficult. It is also a good idea to put reminders in the document rather than the actual passwords themselves.
- On paper: Perhaps you are most comfortable with a pen and paper to keep all of your passwords. This method makes it difficult for cybercriminals to obtain your password database, but it also makes it far less convenient for you if you need to access accounts outside of your house or office. Carrying around a book of passwords is not safe and a small book would be easy to steal. If you choose to keep your passwords organized in this manner, do not use the label ‘Passwords’ anywhere on the product. As mentioned before, write down hints instead of actual passwords.