How to Safeguard Your Passwords

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Pop quiz: How many computer passwords have you had to enter today?

Perhaps you entered one when you turned on your personal computer at home this morning. If you use a computer at work, chances are you needed to log in there, too. If you checked your personal email, that’s another password. Did you sign into Facebook or do online banking? More passwords still. And that’s to say nothing of the various logins you have for online retailers and news sites that require a free or paid membership.

Living in the digital era is a bit like being a school janitor, with dozens of keys for various classrooms and offices clipped to your belt. And just like a fat collection of keys, it can be hard to keep them all straight.

“Let’s be honest: remembering passwords doesn’t scale,” says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at network security firm Sophos. “You might be able to remember three or four, but these days we have scores and scores of accounts.”

Of course, you could just use the same password for every account, or choose passwords that are easy to remember. A study conducted in December by network security firm Check Point Software found that 26% of consumers reused passwords for important accounts such as email and online banking, and 79% admitted risky password construction practices such as using dictionary words or personal information. With consumers forced to remember so many different passwords and login combinations, it’s not surprising so many users have opted for convenience over security.

But if the perils of such practices weren’t clear before, events from the past year should give consumers pause. Security breaches at various companies have revealed that many businesses do a poor job of protecting customers’ personal information, including email addresses and passwords. And if you’ve repeated those passwords, all your accounts could be at risk. When earlier this month hacker group Lulz Security released a list of more than 60,000 email and password combinations it had stolen from an unknown organization, the group’s Twitter followers reported back that they’d used the same combinations to access some users’ Facebook, PayPal and Amazon accounts. The lesson is this: If you use the same email address and password for 12 different sites, all it takes is a security breach at one of them to give hackers access to the other 11.