Best Practices to Avoid Risk of Password Theft

September 20, 2015

2:00 pm

You use passwords every day, whether it’s with something as simple as Facebook or something more private like your school or work email. Unfortunately, passwords can’t safeguard your data if they’re stolen. Stolen passwords can lead to compromised devices, stolen personal information—such as credit card and bank account numbers—and identity theft.

However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of password theft. Check out these best practices below.

Protect Your Devices

Passwords are commonly stolen by hackers who manage to access your passwords via viruses on your computer. You can usually keep from downloading these viruses by avoiding links sent from people you don’t know. You can also protect your computer against viruses by installing anti-virus software.

But remote hackers aren’t the only ones who can gain access to your data. People with direct access to your computer can also get ahold of saved passwords and sensitive data. That’s why it’s important that you protect your computer, mobile phone, tablet, or other device with a password.

You can add an extra layer of security by downloading anti-theft apps like Find My iPhone so you can lock your device and track it if it’s stolen.

Switch Up Your Passwords

This is such a simple practice that many people ignore because one or two passwords are easier to remember than dozens. However, if you use one password for everything from your social media accounts to your corporate email, you’re putting yourself at a huge risk of having your data stolen.

That’s because attackers understand this trend, and they’ll go after less secure sites knowing there’s a good chance you’re using the same password for your accounts housing more sensitive data. Because of this, it’s important that you don’t use the same credentials for third-party sites and corporate accounts and that you follow your work’s corporate policy on password use.

It’s also a good practice to turn off any function your computer has that allows it to remember your password. And, of course, change your passwords every 3-6 months.

Store Passwords in a Safe Location

The problem with having so many passwords is that it’s tough to remember them all. In this case, many people choose to write their passwords down. However, this poses a risk, too.

If you save all your passwords in a note on your phone, that app could get hacked, and then the hackers would have all the passwords to your accounts. If you leave your passwords written on a sticky note at your desk, someone could sneak a glance at those passwords—and it doesn’t matter how many people in the office you trust.

So how do you end up remembering your passwords but still keep them safe? One way is to write down clues for your password, clues that only mean something to you. For example, if your password is your sister’s initials, brother’s initials, and your childhood pet’s name, give a clue like SBcat instead of writing the whole password down.

If it’d be easier to write passwords down, keep your collection of passwords in a secure location rather than sitting out next to your computer where anyone can find it.

Activate Additional Security Measures

Keeping your passwords secure isn’t all about memorizing them and making them tough to guess. Even when you’re the only person who knows your password, malicious login attempts can still be made on your accounts. These days, numerous companies offer additional security measures you can activate, such as receiving a text when your account is logged into from another device.

With options like Gmail’s two-step verification, you have to know your password and have your phone handy. Each time you log in to your account, you’ll receive a code through text, voice message, or their mobile app so you can confirm your identity.

Check with your other personal and work accounts to see if these types of secondary security measures are available.

Protecting your passwords doesn’t have to take a ton of work, but it may require a bit of strategizing at first. How will you protect your passwords?

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Morgan Slain is an expert on password management and identity protection. Slain has been quoted in Mashable along with other mainstream and tech media. He has more than 20 years of experience in technology including web and mobile. Morgan Slain is the current CEO of SplashData, the leading provider of security applications and services for over 10 years.