Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some Password Advice

The other day I was giving a presentation to a group about technology. One of the discussions dealt with “passwords” and how to handle what seems to be a never ending list that we need to remember. Since this is a very common question, let me share with you some of the suggestions I shared with the group.

Not all passwords are created equal. Passwords that are used to access your bank account, medical records or other personal information should be created with care and kept secure. Some others that are used for less important activities don’t require much care. For example I have a free Pandora account. Pandora is a music service that allows you to create personalized play lists. The basic service is free so I did not enter any credit card information, etc. when I signed up. Nevertheless, the site requires a password. My password is a very simple one and could be hacked easily by some smart teenager. All they would be able to do if they got into my account is to see that I like Dave Brubeck. They could also add Def Leppard to my preferences. As a result I don’t change this password.

Now, I also do my banking on line. While I am not rich, I don’t want some miscreant to be able to help themselves to what little money I keep there. As a result I have a password that is much more complex.

A good password is a random set of characters and uses upper and lower case, symbols, letters and numbers. A poor password is predictable. Your birth date, your kid’s first name, your telephone number or your Social Security Number are all poor choices. What is harder to figure out; “D$5!!3prj” or “Jack10611?” (Don’t bother to check, neither are real.)

When you sign on to some password protected sites you may get a message asking if you want the computer to “remember” your password. While it may be tempting to say yes, remember that in the future if someone else is using your computer they can go to that site without a password. That might be OK for your Pandora account; your Fifth Third account may be a different story.

One other security hint that I have mentioned often in these columns is to refrain from accessing any web site that contains important personal information when you are using public wifi. Sitting in McDonalds reviewing your Fifth Third account balance is not a good idea. You are sharing a network connection with everyone within 100 ft. Someone might be looking at ESPN on their lap top; another might have “sniffing” software that allows them to eavesdrop on your connection. Type your password to log into the bank and it is now available to the guy eating McNuggets sitting a few tables away.



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