Passwords say a lot about us. They speak to what we prioritize, what we hold dear. So when I recently saw my wife’s password included the kids’ birthdays and not mine, her priorities were pretty clear. I sure know where I stand!
Whether it’s children’s birth dates or dog names, passwords reveal who we are and what we value, as we all incorporate the relevant aspects of our lives into our passwords to make them easier to remember. While convenient, this habit could actually cause some security mishaps.
As we honor the first Thursday in May, better known as World Password Day, let’s take a step back to examine some of these common password habits as well as discuss some tips users can follow to secure their online accounts from any potential hackers.
Common Password Habits
As human beings, we like to keep things simple — which isn’t always a bad thing. However, it’s not ideal when it comes to password security. According to Tech Times, a recent worldwide survey conducted by the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre on the most common passwords revealed that 23.2 million people still have passwords mentioning the classic ‘123456’ and that ‘123456789’ is used by 7.7 million people worldwide.
Aside from common character sequences, many people (including my wife) also use significant dates or names of their loved ones as passwords. According to another recent study conducted by The Harris Poll in partnership with Google, nearly 60% of people studied said their birthday has been integrated into at least one password, 33% use a pet’s name, and 22% use their own name. Other common habits also include reusing the same password across multiple accounts, writing them down on a piece of paper, keeping them in a file on their computer, or keeping them in a file on Dropbox or a similar platform.
These shortcuts are understandable, as it can be challenging to recall so many complex passwords. In fact, a previous McAfee survey stated that 26% of individuals would be willing to give up pampering (manicures, pedicures, massages, etc.) if they never had to remember a password again. Additionally, 34% of respondents are most concerned with the ease of remembering their passwords.
Potential Security Risks
While convenient, these techniques are not exactly foolproof and can lead to some security concerns. That’s because personalized and simple passwords can put our data a bit more at risk – since hackers can usually find information like birthdays, anniversaries, and pet names online. For instance, that harmless Facebook quiz you were thinking of taking to pass the time can actually reveal your personal information to scammers, allowing them to access your online accounts.
It’s important users are aware of this risk, but especially as we all navigate working from home. As McAfee’s Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and Fellow, would attest, “Password security is essential, especially with the new normal many organizations and people are facing. Staying aware and educated about proper password hygiene is essential for us to keep our data secure as we are connected more than ever these days.” That starts with forming good password habits. Sorry “baxterthedog1234!”
Secure Your Online Accounts
In the post-pandemic world, my family, including my young kids, spends 6+ hours online daily. In the last month, my 6-year-old created 10+ online accounts to do her schoolwork and play. In this new reality, we all have the chance to build better password habits for ourselves and teach them to our kids. That doesn’t mean we have to remember 27 completely unique and complex passwords but can instead just adopt a few easy best practices to help keep our credentials safe. Check out the following tips to help secure your online accounts from criminals.
Use a passphrase
According to ZDNet, the FBI recently found that using a passphrase made up of multiple words in a long string of at least 15 characters is not only more difficult for hackers to crack, but also easier for users to remember. Instead of making a basic password, create a longer passphrase from the lyrics to your favorite song or the ingredients used to make your favorite dish.
Ensure your passwords are unique
Your password or passphrase should be as unique as the information it’s protecting! If a hacker does manage to guess your password for one of your online accounts, it’s likely that they will check for repeat credentials across multiple sites. By using different passwords or passphrases for your online accounts, you can remain calm and collected knowing that the majority of your data is secure if one of your accounts becomes vulnerable.
Use a password manager
Take your security to the next level with a password manager or a comprehensive security solution, like McAfee Total Protection, that comes with one. A password manager can help you create strong passwords, remove the hassle of remembering numerous passwords, and log you on to websites automatically. Who says staying secure has to be complicated?
Use multi-factor authentication
Two or multi-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security, as it requires multiple forms of verification like texting or emailing a secure code to verify your identity. Most popular online sites like Gmail, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. offer multi-factor authentication and it takes just few minutes to set it up. This reduces the risk of successful impersonation by criminals. Mind you, authentication methods are also evolving due to advanced technology like biometrics. Perhaps the day will be renamed to “World No Password Day” in the future.