Home News How to stay safe online when choosing passwords and what to avoid

How to stay safe online when choosing passwords and what to avoid

by Dan Millward
How to choose strong passwords to stay safe online on your Chromebook

In this article, we will look at the different ways to keep you safe when creating passwords online. We’ll also look at the common mistakes people still make when choosing passwords.

Staying safe when using the internet is extremely important. There are thousands of hackers out there who are all too willing to steal your identity.

The best way to stay safe online is by using strong passwords. You must also ensure you use different passwords for each website. Ideally, you also want to change your passwords from time to time. This will lower the possibility of getting your identity stolen.

The problem is a lot of us still avoid doing this and there are many reasons why. Providing you use the correct tools there is no reason why you cannot keep to these rules, which will avoid you becoming a victim of your data being hacked.

THE PASSWORD FROM THE 1980s

One of the biggest mistakes still made with passwords is choosing a weak password. This comes from the 1980s when choosing a password to access a computer felt like a chore. If you consider the risks that were around in the 1980s compared today, it’s understandable why this was the case.

Whether you were at school or had started your working life. Choosing a password back in the 80s was really only about keeping your friends and work colleagues from accessing your computer. The World Wide Web was not around back then, so the issue of outside hacking was far less than it is today.

Passwords were weak in the 1980s
A weak password left on a keyboard was typical in the 19080s

This is where the issue of weak passwords started. The whole idea of having to think of a password on your first day at work was met with someone in IT just saying to choose anything you’ll remember and that it did not really matter.

It was the same at school. I remember everyone in our first IT lesson wanting to find out each others passwords. There was nothing malicious about it, you just wanted to know. It soon became apparent that it was not that hard to hack any of the accounts, as we all discovered after a few people leaked the information that they were all colours. There are not many colours to choose from, so it was pretty easy to hack accounts by using the method of elimination.

We soon realised that passwords were just an obstacle and nobody appeared to take them too seriously. This is what caused people to choose passwords such as ‘123456’ or even worse ‘password’. However, you’ll be surprised just how many people still do this today.

WEAK PASSWORDS

The biggest threat to getting your identity stolen online is by choosing weak passwords. The problem is people can be naturally lazy when it comes to choosing passwords, which means millions of people choose passwords that are simply not fit for purpose.

Luckily, this has been eliminated a little by many websites now insisting you choose a password that the site determines as being strong. This is either done by rules such as password length, special characters, numbers to be included or must include both lower and upper case letters.

This has helped a little but it still allows you to choose weak passwords. If for example, a website insisted you must use lower and upper case and numbers must be included. How many people would still choose ‘Password1234’?

TIMES HAVE CHANGED

The World Wide Web is one of the best inventions ever created and we have the UK born Sir Tim Berners-Lee to thank for that. It has rapidly expanded and is now used in every continent around the world. At first, everyone was still getting to grips with how it all worked. However, even in the early 1990s, we had people wanting to take advantage of the vulnerabilities the internet created.

how to avoid hackers finding out your passwords
Professional hackers make a living out of stealing passwords

The biggest threat to keeping safe online today is yourself. That’s the reality of the situation. It’s true that hackers are more experienced than they’ve ever been, but it’s also true that there are tools out there to help you. So there is no excuse of not taking the responsibility of protecting your identity and data.

WHAT TO AVOID WHEN CHOOSING PASSWORDS

We’ve already gone over the obvious passwords to avoid, so I hope everyone realises passwords such as ‘password’ or ‘123456’ is out of the question. However, there are many other common mistakes people make when choosing a password.

How many people decide to use the name of their partner or even there pet? You might do this because its easy to remember, and you’ve got an emotional attachment. The problem is this information is widely available on the internet. Using someone’s date of birth is also a huge mistake. Whether that is your own or someone you know, as again, this information is widely available.

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You should also avoid using passwords such as your favourite holiday destination. How many people have you told where you like to go on holiday? Also, how many pictures have you put up on Facebook and other social media sites of your favourite holiday photos?

When choosing passwords you should avoid anything that is personal. It’s a very common mistake people make but unless only you know about it, then you’re putting yourself at risk.

AVOID USING THE SAME PASSWORD

Today we have more online accounts than ever before. This can make it extremely difficult to remember different passwords for each account. To get around this people are inclined to use the same password for multiple online accounts.

Choosing the same password for different accounts is a huge mistake. If a software program or an individual manages to find out your password, then you have opened up your whole online world to them. Even if you choose a strong password it’s still a major risk to use passwords over multiple accounts.

Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts
Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts

What you need to remember is that it may not even be you who accidentally provides this information. Hackers are constantly trying to hack websites for peoples usernames and passwords. If they succeed in doing this it can take ages before you find out about it. Also, some companies avoid informing customers until months after it occurred. This is because they are worried about the damage it will do to there reputation.

If a website is hacked and your password is stolen, it means the hackers would then have access to all of your accounts where you used the same password. Before you know it all of your bank accounts could be cleared out.

HOW TO CHOOSE STRONG PASSWORDS

Everyone has a different interpretation of what a strong password is. However, there are easy ways to make your passwords much harder to hack. You need to remember it’s not only individuals who may be manually entering different passwords until they get lucky. You also have computer algorithms that attempt thousands of different passwords.

Computer algorithms usually try to find out your passwords by using obvious options. This is why it’s important that you choose passwords that are totally random. You can still use words but make sure the words you choose has no relation to you. If you do decide to use words, you do need to back this up with other random numbers and special characters.

Another way of choosing strong passwords is to use a password generator. This is a program that creates a completely random password that makes no sense at all. It could look something like this ‘ASDFH£$%”£%^4$^f54#’. Many people decide to use such programs, but personally I try to avoid this.

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THE PROBLEM WITH GENERATED PASSWORDS

There will be many people who disagree with me on this. However, I choose not to use password generators for one reason. The password is generated by a computer algorithm, therefore, another computer algorithm can surely create the same password.

I totally understand why people choose randomly generated passwords. They appear totally safe and some of them contain huge amount of characters. Personally, if a software program can create a password, then surely another software program can hack it.

That being said, if you’re the type of person who finds choosing a strong password a chore. Then it’s much safer to use a password generator than using a password that is not strong enough.

USING A PASSWORD MANAGER

So we’ve looked at how you should stay safe online by choosing strong and different passwords for each website account you have. The benefits of doing this far outweigh the time it takes to ensure you do this for every website where you have an account.

The problem with this is that it means remembering a lengthy password for each of your accounts. This can be a problem for many because it can feel impossible to remember all of your passwords.

Password Managers are available from Android Apps
Password Managers are known on Windows but are also available on Android for the Chromebook

A tool that can help you do this is a Password Manager. All Password Managers work slightly differently, but most of them provide the same end outcome. That is, that you can store strong passwords for separate websites inside a Password Manager. By doing this means you only need to remember one password, and this is the one you have chosen for your Password Manager.

This makes it much easier to remember passwords you have for different websites. Many Password Managers also provide the option of generating new passwords for you.

USING GOOGLE SMART LOCK

If you own a Chromebook or use the Chrome browser then the simplest way is to use Google Smart Lock. It works slightly differently to Password Managers, as it does not generate passwords for you. However, it’s also much easier to use than Password Managers.

Google Smart Lock is integrated into Chrome OS, so you can change the settings for this in your Chromebook settings. When you visit a website Google Smart Lock asks if you would like the login details you use to be saved for future visits. If you choose to do so, you will be able to login to that particular website in the future without having to remember the username or password.

Google Smart Lock is ideal for Chromebook users
Google Smart Lock remembers your passwords for you and is ideal for the Chromebook

This is the method I would recommend if you own a Chromebook or Chromebox. Again, the only password you then need to remember is your Google Account password. This means you can choose strong passwords for each site without worrying that you may forget it in the future.

CONCLUSION

If you want to stay safe online you must ensure you use strong passwords that nobody else can easily identify. Try to ensure you use totally random words or even characters that do not even make up a word.

You should also include numbers, lower and upper case letters and special characters such as # @ ! $ %. This makes it much more difficult for someone to try and guess your password.

The problem with choosing strong passwords and making sure you choose a different one for each website is remembering them. This is even more so if you regularly change your passwords, which is advisable because it lowers the risk of a password being identified.

This is why you should use a password manager. There are many password managers available online. Some of them are free to use and others come with a cost. However, you should do your research before deciding on what the best password manager is for you.

If you use Google Chrome on your Chromebook, PC or MAC then you should consider Google Smart Lock. Google Smart Lock is not a password manager that generates passwords. However, it remembers the passwords you choose when visiting websites. This means you can safely choose random strong passwords without having to worry about remembering them.

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