The world has become increasingly reliant on technology for nearly everything in our day-to-day life, and our financial accounts are a prime example. We oftentimes depend on our online logins to manage our finances from simple banking needs to our retirement accounts. Because of this, hackers and scammers are constantly trying to break into our accounts and steal our hard-earned money. What can we do to prevent this? One of the simplest and most significant ways we can avoid being hacked is to form better online habits with our passwords. We’ll cover some ways we can do just that.
Improve Password Security
Password habits can be a critical downfall that many of us need to improve on. For starters, a Google study found that 13% of people reuse the same password across all accounts while 52% use the same password for multiple (but not all) accounts (Google/Harris Poll 2019). Additionally, 59% of U.S. adults have incorporated a name or a birthday into their password to an online account. With the heavy use of social media today, many Americans have publicly posted a significant amount of personal information that a hacker can use to break into an account and setting up passwords with this information can make it that much easier for them. Creating strong passwords is critical in this heavily digital-reliant age.
What is a Strong Password?
The definition of a strong password is subjective, but generally speaking the more characters the better. Adding in special characters (i.e. #$!), upper case letters, lower case letters, and including numbers significantly increases the security of a password. Bad habits to avoid that reduce the security of passwords are:
Reusing the same or similar password on multiple sites
Creating short or simple passwords
Creating passwords based on information available online such as, birthdays, spouse/partner’s name, child(ren)’s name, pet’s name.
Use a Password Manager
Password managers are increasingly helpful to the vast majority of Americans in improving their account security, but what exactly are they? According to a 2019 Google study, only 55% of respondents could define what a password manager was (Google/Harris Poll 2019.) Password managers allow users to more securely store and maintain passwords for their online accounts. Password managers essentially remove the difficulty of remembering each individual site’s password. This storage is typically in the form of a website, app, or browser extension login. According to a survey conducted by Bitwarden, 33% of respondents used pen and paper to remember their passwords and 28% of respondents stored a password document on their computers (Global survey 2021). Storing information in this manner presents a significant risk should the information get into the wrong hands. Depending on how password managers are used, they can promote good behavior and help protect a user’s accounts from theft. For example, some password managers allow users to enforce a strict password length on all of their accounts while also forcing the inclusion of special characters, upper case letters, lower case letters, and numbers. Additionally, they will typically offer enhanced login protections into the password manager.
One crucial factor when selecting a password manager should be whether or not it offers multi-factor authentication (MFA). A password manager should be treated as a vault as it is a library of the user’s website passwords. Multi-factor authentication can significantly help protect that vault. Multi-factor is typically an authentication text message/call to a user’s phone or a linked app with an expiring code that confirms the user is who they said they are when logging into the password manager. This helps prevent malicious sign-ins from hackers looking to steal information. For a detailed introduction to Multi-factor authentication, visit the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s explanatory webpage.
Better Habits with Password Managers
A password manager can be the guiding hand that keeps the user on track for increased account security. For those who need a little help with better password habits, Money.com released their list of top 5 password managers for 2022 here where they list the various pros and cons of some of the most established password management companies.
Through education and a little effort, we can put ourselves in a better position against cyber criminals. Increasing password strength, forming better online habits, and adding additional stages of protection are just some of the ways we can help avoid these potential headaches.