What’s your password? No, no, don’t tell us. Chances are you might not even remember it, or if you do, you’re stumped as to which letter you capitalized, whether there’s an exclamation point or question mark at the end, or whether you used your birthday, anniversary or the year you graduated from college.
OK, you have it now? Good. You should probably change it.
The results of an Intel study from 2016 revealed that the average person has 27 logins for various personal and professional accounts, and that 37 percent of those surveyed forgets at least one of them every week.
Coming up with unique and hard-to-guess combinations can be made even more difficult with the accepted wisdom that passwords should never be repeated. “I knew I was in trouble when I created one for a social media platform and decided on ‘ilovegin,’” says Maruchy Ramos-Lachance, who lives between Jupiter and Boulder, Colorado.
While forgetting can simply mean a delay in our Netflix binge watching, the difficulty in remembering the increasing number of passwords we need to navigate our modern lives can have more serious and terrifying implications. David Ige, governor of Hawaii, recently admitted that it took him nearly 20 minutes to alert panicked citizens that a missile alert was a mistake because he didn’t know his Twitter password.
Unless one retreats to a cabin in the woods from which you pay for everything from a bag of cash stashed under a loose floorboard, it’s not a problem that’s going away, says Jason Thomas, director of Campus Information Services at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and an adjunct professor of technology at the university’s MacArthur School of Leadership.
It’s easier to remember a password if it’s something familiar to us, like “the current year, anniversary information, birthday dates (of family) and things of that nature,” Thomas says. “Some people will use the name of the server they’re logging into followed by a series of numbers. These are the things that we should try to avoid.”
And even if we find the perfect password, there are criminals whose full-time jobs are trying to figure it out, even though sites are increasingly demanding longer and more complex passwords.
“No one is secure, no one is safe, no one is private,” says Elias Bou-Harb, assistant professor for cyber security and data analytics at Florida Atlantic University. “Nothing is bulletproof.”
Yikes. Before you start entering “place to stash bag of cash” in a Zillow search for deep-woods properties, there are smart ways to generate passwords and keep them safe, experts say.
One of the most popular solutions, Bou-Harb says, is to accept the fact “that the human mind cannot remember a 20-digit alphanumeric code for 30 different services (and) let technology do the heavy lifting for you and embrace a password manager” like LastPass and 1 Password, which can store your password and even help you generate a strong, complex one. Of course, those services are just the kind hackers like to target, Bou-Harb says, because that’s where the passwords are.
Password storage is key, says Rachel Cohen, a former Apple Technical Support Advisor who lives in Port St. Lucie. When customers come to Apple for help, “we try to get people away from writing passwords down on pieces of paper. Those people usually lose their phones along with the pieces of paper. And there goes the entire system.”
Cohen suggests “using a passphrase over a password because they are harder to crack, but also easier to remember.” For instance, an avid James Bond fan who wants to use those movies as a theme could start with, say, ”The World Is Not Enough’ which can become “DaW0rld$N0tEnuff!” which is far more secure than ‘JamesBond007.’”
Methods vary. Bou-Harb suggests using easy-to-remember phrases or word combinations as a base and then switching them up. That’s what Julia Duresky of West Palm Beach does, starting with “the name that I wanted to name my future daughter when I was in middle school,” then “mixed differently with some numbers and other words each time.”
And once you’ve picked a password, Cohen suggests people put serious thought into the security questions you choose to further guard your accounts and “do not try to trick the system as you will end up tricking yourself. Stick to the questions about your life and stay away from ‘favorites’ as those are likely to change. ‘Where did your parents meet?’ is an evergreen question. It will not change. ‘What is your favorite sports team?’ could literally change tomorrow.”
While, as he says, nothing is fool-proof, Bou-Harb says the best way to protect your passwords is vigilance, like changing them every 30 days, constantly updating your anti-virus software and basically being smart about your time in cyberspace.
“That helps contribute to a safe (Internet) ecosystem, wherever you go online.”
Tips on passwords
Rachel Cohen, former Apple Technical Support Advisor, asked some of her friends in the business some of their advice. Here’s what they said:
*Bank passwords can be the most important of your security safeguards, so it’s best to commit them to memory rather than writing them down.
*If you must write them down, keep passwords in a safe or a secure box at a bank.
*PIN codes, like computer passwords, should be kept up-to-date and changed periodically as well.
*When using a long password, a few of the characters can be changed from time to time in an easy to remember rhyme (much like this sentence.)