Advertisement
Technology

How to Create a Secure, Easy-to-Remember Password

Forget sign-ons that look like hieroglyphics. You can beat hackers with simple words and phrases.

Security experts have warned for years that to protect our online accounts we need to change passwords frequently and make sure that those passwords are "complex"—meaning filled with letters, numbers and random characters. But that advice may have done more harm than good. Such passwords are nearly impossible to remember (try recalling something like "Tri3cer&top$"). So many people continue to rely on weak passwords, such as "123456," "password" and "qwerty."

Now, new research shows that not only are complex passwords user-unfriendly, but they're also not hacker-proof. That's partly because once people finally commit passwords to memory, they often reuse them for multiple accounts. That makes "passphrases"—long, easy-to-remember strings of words—a better deterrent to the bad guys.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Creating a strong passphrase. Start by picking a series of unrelated common words—such as cloud tomato history bridge—or a phrase that may be obscure but that you can remember. Length is more important than randomness, although many websites currently limit you to, say, a dozen characters. Put capital letters, numbers or special characters within the passphrase, not just at the beginning or the end, says Lorrie Cranor, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. For example, you could use "Cloud!Tomato2HistoryBridge." Avoid repetitive or sequential characters, such as "777" or "XYZ," or even using letters that form a pattern on the keyboard.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Lock them up. Still, the average internet user has more than 100 accounts to keep track of. And even the best passwords are easily compromised if you write them down—which is what 73% of people do, according to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center.

One solution is to sign up with a password manager that will store all of them behind one master login—the only password you'll need to remember. A password manager can also help you create strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts. Passwords generated by the service will still be long, unpredictable and impossible to remember. But that's okay because you'll never need to type them in yourself.

Advertisement - Article continues below

For example, if you want password manager LastPass (free) to generate a password for you, log into LastPass and then visit the site that you want to add to your LastPass account. Ask to reset your password, then use the LastPass browser extension to generate a new password. Change your password on the site and log in to that account using the newly generated password. A pop-up will ask if you'd like to add the new password to LastPass. After that, LastPass will fill in the new password automatically. The service's premium option ($24 a year) adds a few features, including priority tech support, some multifactor authentication options and 1 gigabyte of encrypted storage. The family plan ($48 a year) allows up to six people to use the service and share log-in information with one another for shared accounts.

To add another layer to your security network, enable two-factor or multistep authentication on any account that allows you to. You'll enter your username and password as usual, but the account will then confirm your identity by asking you to enter a code that has been sent to your smartphone or e-mail address. The extra step deters hackers, and you'll know if an intruder attempts to log in with your password.

Advertisement

Most Popular

HSAs Get Even Better
Financial Planning

HSAs Get Even Better

Workers have more options with flexible spending accounts, too.
July 2, 2020
Find a Great Place to Retire
happy retirement

Find a Great Place to Retire

Our cities provide plenty of space to spread out without skimping on health care or other amenities.
July 2, 2020
What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?

The IRS unveiled the 2020 tax brackets, and it's never too early to start planning to minimize your future tax bill.
June 20, 2020

Recommended

Travel Planning in the Time of Coronavirus
business

Travel Planning in the Time of Coronavirus

Insurance may not cover canceled vacations, but airlines and hotels may be flexible.
June 11, 2020
13 Things That May Soon Disappear Forever (The Pandemic Edition)
business

13 Things That May Soon Disappear Forever (The Pandemic Edition)

Emerging technologies (and now the COVID-19 pandemic) are putting an end to these familiar items and practices.
June 9, 2020
Don't Let the Drama Surrounding PPP Distract You from Running Your Business
business

Don't Let the Drama Surrounding PPP Distract You from Running Your Business

If you're so wrapped up in worry about your Paycheck Protection Program loan not being forgiven, think about the worst-case scenario. It might not be …
June 5, 2020
Another Epidemic to Worry About: Identity Theft
business

Another Epidemic to Worry About: Identity Theft

Fraud losses grew in 2019 and are likely to increase in 2020.
June 5, 2020