World Password Day isn’t the most popular day on the calendar, but it’s an important reminder that good password hygiene is essential to staying safe online. This World Password Day, we’d like to talk about improving your password hygiene, how you can help your friends and family improve theirs, and what the future of authentication holds.
Hacking attempts have escalated throughout 2020
The SolarWinds hack in 2020 is one of the most devastating hacks in the history of the internet. Close to 20,000 company’s systems were compromised, losing billions of pieces of data in the process. If you’re one of the 37% of Americans that go long periods of time without updating passwords*, large-scale attacks like SolarWinds can be devastating. By stealing so many login credentials simultaneously, attackers can potentially access exponentially more accounts by reusing leaked credentials on different sites. Unfortunately this is not an isolated event, data breaches from websites and services we frequently use continue to happen through 2021 as well.
According to a recent survey we conducted, 34% of Americans have reused the same, or similar, password more than once. By using the same password for multiple accounts, attackers only need to find one password, creating a domino effect that makes it easier to access more accounts. If that password is weak, it becomes even easier to tip over that first domino.
Current ways to protect your accounts
Our guidance is to create strong, hard-to-guess passwords to protect your accounts. We recommend creating a unique password for every online account, using more than 16 characters, with upper and lower case letters, some numbers, and special symbols, to make a stronger than average password. How are you supposed to remember all of those strong passwords, though?
Well, password managers, especially those included in comprehensive security suites like McAfee® Total Protection, do much of the heavy lifting for you. For instance, McAfee’s integrated password manager not only helps you create stronger passwords and store them, but will also autofill your credentials and log you into websites as well. These convenient features extend beyond just your computer and can be used on other devices like your phone and tablet. Best of all, password managers that are an integrated part of a security suite can be monitored, so you’ll be alerted if your passwords get exposed in a data breach.
You’ve already taken a step towards improving your password hygiene by reading this blog post. But the next step is, have an honest look at your passwords. Do you write them down, use the same for many accounts, or use weak ones? Then it may be time for a change to better protect your accounts and the personal info in those accounts.
If you’re like a certain member of my family—that will remain nameless, Mom—who kept their passwords written down in a notepad, making the change to a password manager (McAfee’s, naturally) was a life-changing moment. Not only did it help her see just how often she was using the same login credentials, she now has an easy way to store, auto-fill, and even generate strong passwords across all her accounts and devices. An intended bonus was that she also realized how many accounts she was no longer using!
Strong passwords are only the start
Now that you know more about what makes a strong password and how to protect them, let’s talk about why strong passwords are just the start of keeping your accounts safe. You’re probably already using Two-Factor Authentication for apps and services, but you may not have heard the term before. Two-Factor Authentication, or 2FA, is the second layer of protection to authenticate or prove you are the owner of this account. If you’ve received a text message or an email to confirm a new account signup, that’s a type of 2FA.
Text messages and email aren’t the only types of 2FA. There are USB keys, apps, and even systems built-in to your phone, like facial recognition to open phone apps, for example. Some popular 2FA options are USB keys and Google Authenticator.
The great thing about 2FA is that it helps make your strong passwords even more effective by stopping an attacker from using stolen credentials. If you fell victim to a phishing attack that looked like your bank’s website, the attacker would have your email and password combination. Without 2FA, they could log into your account and pretend they’re you. With 2FA in place, it becomes much harder for an attacker to access your account because they’re missing that last important piece of information.
The future of passwords
Humans are almost always the weakest link when it comes to securing information. But by committing ourselves to better password practices, with help from the latest technology, we can make sure passwords are a strong link in our security chain; one that will only get stronger in the future.
For instance, using a device like a key-fob, new passwordless systems can authenticate a user without entering their login details. Not only does this make logging into your accounts lightning fast, you also never have to remember a complicated password again.
Biometric locks, like FaceID, are another example of passwordless entry. Using your face, or a fingerprint to authenticate yourself makes it much harder for attackers to break into your accounts.
Happy World Password Day
We hope this Password Day post has helped answer some questions about password hygiene and how to take better care of your online accounts. Online security changes from day to day, so staying aware of new technologies and building safe new habits is essential. Perhaps one day this day will no longer need to exist on our calendars, as we look to a future where we might not need passwords at all. While we collectively make strikes towards this future, let’s celebrate this day while it lasts.
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