Check Yourself: 13 Password Tips to Help Safeguard Your Accounts

by Brian Benton
- Aug 1 2014 - 4 min read

Dealing with passwords is a daily chore for most of us. We want to keep our accounts secure while keeping password management simple.

I want to discuss password tips—what makes a password strong, as well as give you some ideas on how to generate them. I know it’s a hassle and it’s annoying, but the more passwords you use, the safer you will be.

Password Strength

Passwords are either strong or weak. A weak password is one that is easily figured out. Obviously you want to use a password that is very difficult to figure out. People who want to gain access to your accounts have several methods of breaking your password. One method is to guess your password. They do this by trying commonly used passwords or by using your personal information.

Another method is by brute force. That means they try every possible alphanumeric and symbol keystroke combination. That is not the preferred method because a strong password can take a very long time to figure out. They can use brute force because there is a finite number of characters to use. Because of this limited variable amount, it is wise to use upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Doing that means there are about 100 options for each character slot. The more characters you use, the stronger the password becomes.

password tips

Password-Creation Tips

1. Don’t Use Your Personal Information. Personal information is easy to come by, especially for clever people who are determined to get into your accounts. Refrain from using your name, pet names, birthdays, license-plate numbers, social security numbers, or phone numbers.

2. Change Your Case. Your password, whatever it is, should contain letters using both upper and lower case letters. Having only one uppercase letter (with the others being lowercase) is enough but more is better. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but you can double that by adding an uppercase letter.

3. Numbers Rule. Using numbers increases the amount of character variables by 10. It’s not much, but it helps.

4. Special Characters Are Special. Special characters such as ,.;”’!@#$%^&*()-+ (etc.) add even more strength to your password by increasing the possibilities for your password characters. There are about as many special characters as there are letters to use.

5. Size Matters. To make it strong, keep it long. If each space taken in your password holds approximately 100 possible variants (an estimated number on my part), then each additional character multiplies the possible password variants by 100.

6. Do Not Use Common Passwords. Every few weeks or so it seems, a database of passwords is published. The top 10 passwords are often short, simple, and should never be used.

7. Your Passwords Should Be Unique. Do your best to avoid using the same password on different accounts.

Password-Creation Methods

1. Use Multiple Words. An example of a strong password might be: Mat#L1braryHorsePerso^CarStatue. That is a long password, it uses uppercase and lowercase letters, and it has numbers and special characters. It is a string of random words, which makes it easier to remember. Pick four or five words of about four to six letters each, and then add uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

password tips

2. Password Generator Websites. There are several websites and services from security companies such as Norton Securities that have password generators and strength testers. Only use websites or services that you trust and that have great reputations.

3. Use a Password Manager. There are several reputable companies that provide a password-management service. Most of these services provide computer and mobile device services. Essentially they manage your passwords, and all you have to do is create one super-strong password to access your account. A file is encrypted and saved on your device that manages the passwords and can be accessed only via your super password. You risk losing all of your passwords if your account is compromised, but you don’t have to manage all of your passwords, except for the super password.

4. Use a Sentence. ThisOldFoxCameaJumpingDowntheStreet. This is similar to tip number one, but it’s an actual sentence. Remember to keep it long and to include a case change, numbers, and special characters. Sentences can be much easier to remember.

5. Incorporate the Website or Account Name into the Password. Don’t make your password “Amazon,” but perhaps you add AMZN at the beginning, middle, or end of your password.

6. Use the First Letters of Each Word in a Sentence. MTFBWY is from “May The Force Be With You.” Don’t use that one, of course; it’s too simple. But you get the idea. Use several sentences to make the password longer.

There are many ways to create a strong, easy-to-remember password. You can use a password-management service, or you can manage them yourself. Make sure your banking password is completely unique from all other passwords you use. The same goes for your email password. Your email address is often used as a user name and that address is extremely easy to get. Change your passwords on a regular basis. If you can’t remember when you last changed your password, it’s time to change your password.


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