CBS News reported that one in four people has to reset a password once a month. Whether it is unexplainable computer glitch or a forgotten word, we’ve all been faced with the frustration in remembering that series of letters and numbers that unlocks our digital world.
Having difficulty remembering passwords seems to be dependent on age. The Pew Research Center reported that 44 percent of adults aged 30 to 64 stated they had trouble remembering passwords compared to 33 percent of those between 18 and 29.
What do people use as their password? Passwords with the word “love” top the list, appearing 23 times more often than hate. Keepersecurity.com, in its analysis of 10 million passwords, lists in its top 10 passwords, the word “password” and seven different combinations of consecutive numerals. They list 1 to 6, 1 to 9, 1 to 8, 1 to 7, all the numerals including 0, 9 to 1, and all ones. In fact, nearly 17 percent of users have the password 123456. These easily cracked passwords have consistently been among the most popular passwords for the last five years. If you use one of these passwords, you should change it immediately.
In a perfect world, a string of unrelated, random characters is unbreakable, but how do we remember that unrelated string? And with most of us having 20 or 30 different accounts that need a password, having a separate password for each account makes it more complicated.
So here are the rules. Every password should be at least eight characters long, but the longer it is, the harder it is to crack. It should have symbols, numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, don’t be lazy — make sure you have a different password for each account you have. Many sites recommend that you frequently change your passwords, but conversely, that can be detrimental to password security. When you frequently change passwords, you tend to be less secure. We take shortcuts, use an easily cracked variation of our old passwords or use a strong password on multiple accounts. All these steps make our passwords less secure.
Some people use the first letters of an easily remembered phrase, such as all good boys obey their mother when they choose a wife, then add a symbol or number. Or you make take an easily remembered word and replace letters with numbers or symbols. “A” becomes “@”, “E” becomes a 3 or “I” is replaced by a 1. A pattern will help you remember, but it should be tailored to you, making it more difficult to crack.
There are many password-generating sites on the web. They generate random strings of letters, symbols, and numbers, but then you must remember these generated passwords. Many of those who are “password challenged” write down those passwords on a sheet of paper, store them in a digital form on the computer, or allow the web browser to save them. That is fine until some unscrupulous person finds their list.
Storage sites such as Keepass and Password Safe all offer free storage for your passwords. Rather than writing them down, store them on one of these sites for added security.
Passwords are the key to our digital world. Make sure your passwords are secure and closely guarded.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.