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Don’t let your password become someone’s passport to your online life!

Guest Post by Marian Merritt: Norton Internet Safety Advocate

I know you’re probably thinking; ‘boring old passwords’. It’s true, password tips aren’t a fancy bit of technology to keep you safe online, however, weak passwords are one of the easiest routes for someone to access the things you would never want them to. Passwords are always a hot topic for that very reason. Passwords should be your first point of call when protecting your stuff and it’s important to make them as secure as you can.

From an early age we discover passwords are not always as safe as we think they are. Kids at school share passwords as part of friendship and misplaced trust. And they sometimes guess their friend’s passwords or reset them by knowing the responses to security questions. Kids can hack another friend’s account and go in and change settings such as the person’s desktop background to something embarrassing and have a good laugh when they log on the next time. Although this joke was meant to be fun, there are lessons that can be taken away. It sets kids up to have their accounts mismanaged, their private information shared and their social networks used to cause trouble. I know it’s convenient to stay signed into your accounts but logging out is a simple but great technique to ensure no one has access to your accounts. Make sure that you prioritise passwords for email and social networks as the most important to make complex and unique, as these are often connected to social media accounts and can serve as a way to log in. Once someone has access to your email, they can change all your other passwords by clicking on the “forgot my password” link on the other websites. And if they gain control of your social network, they can scam or send dangerous links to all of your contacts. Avoid using easy-to-guess passwords such as dictionary words, names, or dates that an Internet hacker might break.

How to create a good password: Pick a single master password that you’ll be able to remember, and then customize that password for different websites. The first step is to choose a good master password that uses more than six characters and some combination of letters and numbers (rather than real words). In this case, let’s use the phrase “I want to go to London”. Reduce that phrase to each of the first letters, use the number “2” for the word “to” and you’ll end up with “Iw2g2L”. Then add the first and last letter of the website to it (Norton.com’s website would be: “NIw2g2Ln”). This little trick helps me remember all those various passwords and yet keep things complex enough that it’s hard for a computer hacker to crack. This sequence makes sense to me but not to anyone else. It also helps that I get different passwords for different accounts. If one password to one account is compromised, the rest are still secure.

Top Tip: If you store important documents on your home computer with bank account information, tax information, social security numbers, make sure to add a password to them too. If your computer ever gets stolen or hacked, the passwords will add another layer of security to your information. Find out how to add one here. Are your passwords up to scratch, let us know if this has made you change yours?