There is no doubt that the youngest generation is growing up in an entirely digital age. I’m sure you’ve witnessed toddlers playing with iPads while riding in their strollers. Technology surrounds us. More and more businesses are moving into paperless modes of operating. For REALTORS®, you have a host of zipForm®6 digital tools at your disposal. All signs indicate that technology will become even more embedded in our daily functions and future generations will be getting to work in self-driven cars. While our lives are quickly transitioning to an online world, we’re still creating passwords like it’s 1995.
Years ago using your cat’s name as your password wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it is today. Using the word “password” as your password is just plain reckless. The same goes for sequential digits (i.e. 12345 or 54321). It’s the equivalent of locking your front door, but leaving all your ground-level windows, not just unlocked, but wide open.
Until retina scans become the new standard for authenticating identity, we need to improve (and teach our children) how to create stronger passwords. Your account with “lolcats” may not need a password that’s three layers deep with meaning, but your bank and business accounts certainly do. Same goes for those MLS passwords (which should never be shared with anyone, by the way). If your passwords are on this list (warning, link contains censored but inappropriate language), it’s time to make some changes.
So what can you do to increase your online security?
- Create a passphrase not a password. Rather than trying to come up with a singular word that is password-worthy, create a personal phrase and then abbreviate it. “Peanut butter and banana sandwiches taste best when grilled” becomes “pbabstbwg”. We’re off to a good start.
- Take it to the next level by using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. It is much more difficult to guess “PBaBstbwG” than its lazy lowercase version.
- Include or replace some letters with numbers, and when possible, integrate symbols as well. “PBaBstbwG” starts to look like complete gibberish as “P8@BstbwG”. Perfect! Even if someone happened to glimpse at password they would have a hard time remembering such a random pattern. But you have the key—your original passphrase, which you never share with anyone.
- Don’t use the same password across the board. Now that you have a passphrase you’ll probably want to use it for everything, but that would still be bad practice. What you can do is use your newly created bit of gibberish as a base for unique passwords. For your Amazon account you might use “P8@BstbwG” with “A2Z” tacked on to the end since Amazon’s tagline used to be “Everything from A to Z”. Find what works for you.
- The longer the password, the harder it is to guess.
If you don’t want to bother with remembering your different passwords, you have several options for storing them securely. Most browsers can remember passwords for you, but I would advise setting a master password on these in the event anyone uses your computer. Alternatively, you can purchase password storage software. Here is a comparison done in March of the top password managers for Mac and PC. Many of these managers also have a mobile component allowing you to access your passwords on the go.
Typing out your new password may be a bit of a hassle at first, but it gets committed to muscle memory soon enough. It’s a very small price to pay for safeguarding your identity, digital data, and that of your clients.
Oh, and one more thing. If you use your smartphone to store any sensitive data, please set a passcode on it. Phones are far too easy to lose.