Identity theft has become a serious problem and the number of cases reported has increased exponentially every year.
The problem is twofold. Firstly, thieves have become smarter and have many more tools at their disposal to access your private information, but people are too lax in securing their information.
Most of us simply believe identity theft is something that can’t happen to us and we cling to this belief until it does happen. And then it’s too late because identity theft has many repercussions from financial to psychological.
This belief that we are somehow excluded from a thief’s radar has led to many people being less than diligent to changing up their passwords and creating effective ones. Another problem is that many people feel they should be protected by the website owners whether it’s Google or their bank and take no responsibility themselves. The fact is that if you have a weak password, there’s nothing anyone can do to protect you against being hacked so you need to take responsibility as well and do everything you can to protect yourself.
If you have these passwords, you might as well post a sign saying “Hack Me”
If you have a weak password or haven’t even considered the importance of creating a strong password, don’t despair because you aren’t alone. Surprisingly, in this day and age when we are repeatedly warned about the dangers of revealing our private information to the world and various scandals involving different websites and their poor security systems, people still don’t give enough importance to their passwords, as the 2012 SplashData list of the worst passwords reveals.
People simply don’t seem to realise how much risk they are subjecting themselves to by using weak passwords. It’s a bit like handing your house keys with your address to a convicted criminal, i.e. you’re asking to be robbed.
A list of the worst passwords was compiled based on stolen password data and one of the most common passwords and the one that topped the list as the worst password of 2012 was “password”. The following passwords are “123456” and “12345678”. Some might find it unbelievable that people actually use these as passwords while others might be shrugging and wondering what’s wrong with using a simple password. Let’s just say that these are some of the first things a hacker will try when trying to uncover your personal information.
Additionally, password data that has been stolen is often available all over the net and identity thieves analyse these lists in an attempt to determine the most common occurrences of passwords and use that information to attempt to hack your accounts.
Some people use their birthday or other personal information that is readily available as a password, which is also another mistake. If someone wants to steal your private information, finding out things like your birthday or the names and birth dates of your children won’t be hard to discover and before you know it, your bank account will be empty, your credit card will be maxed-out and you’ll be running around trying to get your identity back.
As the list reveals, the top three most popular passwords from 2011 are still the same ones this year. Other high-risk passwords that have remained on the list that were present in 2011 include “dragon” that has gone up two positions, “123123” that has gone up four positions from rank 20 to rank 16 and “monkey”, which has remained in sixth position. New passwords to join the worst passwords list include “jesus”, “ninja”, “mustang” and “password1”.
So, if you use any of the passwords on this list, you should consider changing them immediately.
Tips on creating more secure passwords
The fact is that it’s impossible to create a completely secure password but you can definitely create ones that are much more difficult to hack. At least you can rest easy in the knowledge that a hacker will prefer to move on to an easier target if you use a difficult password, unless they have targeted you specifically, which is rare.
So, to make life more difficult for an identity thief, use multifactor authentication. Numerous services, like Gmail and Dropbox, require you to enter a code from an SMS message sent to your mobile phone every time you try to connect from a different location. This makes it harder for anyone except you to log into these services so if you have this option, activate it.
Don’t use the same password on every site. Avoid using the same password you use for secure sites, like your bank or email, on less secure sites like forums and social media accounts. The latter are easier to hack, allowing identity thieves to get hold of the list of passwords. If the site in question doesn’t utilise HTTPS for password encryption (the ‘S’ meaning secure), your password can easily be stolen while you are on any open network such as a public Wi-Fi connection.
Randomly generated passwords should be used. Most of us try to use passwords we will remember easily but this is exactly what makes them so weak. Instead of trying to use simple passwords for fear of forgetting them, you are better off using a tool that will randomly generate a password, which is much harder to hack. There are a number of these tools available online, including SplashID Safe and LastPass but there are free versions as well. Regardless of which one you use, it’s important that you do so to protect your private information.
If you want to create your own password, remember the following tips:
- Passwords should have eight or more characters;
- They should include letters, numbers as well as special characters;
- Try not to use words found in the dictionary. For example, instead of using "ilikecake", try something like "8i$l42i69k@eC#4A29Ke". Clearly the first option will be a lot easier to hack than the second one;
- Try not to create passwords using dates or names with any significance.
The key to creating a good password is to think about keeping your private information secure instead of worrying about remembering your passwords. There are plenty of password managers online that can do that for you and these are highly secure systems that will keep your passwords safe while making your life easier by automatically logging you onto the different websites.
However, a strong password isn’t enough. You also need to change up your passwords on a regular basis. Don’t use the same passwords for years. To ensure your private information stays private, make sure to change your passwords every few months and make sure you are using either randomly generate ones or ones that are difficult to hack.