Elaborate passwords are a necessity in today’s internet-obsessed world. Unfortunately, too many of us still rely on simple passwords that make us easy targets for hackers.
A study by the online security provider Preempt found that 35 percent of LinkedIn users have exceptionally weak passwords that pose no challenge to hackers. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)
Want to boost your online security and keep your personal information safe from hackers? Then here are some key password mistakes to avoid.
1. You use the same password across various accounts
This is one of the biggest password mistakes too many of us make. We reuse passwords from site to site. It doesn’t matter how complex these passwords are — whether they are an incomprehensible mess of lowercase letters, numbers, and uppercase letters. If you are using the same password at multiple sites, you are vulnerable. A hacker only has to crack this password once to access several of your accounts.
2. Your password is all numbers or all letters
One of the easiest ways to make your password more challenging to crack? Use a wide variety of characters, numbers, lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and even symbols such as your keyboard’s dollar sign and asterisk.
Never make your password all letters or all numbers. These are some of the easiest passwords to guess.
3. You don’t mix up where you put those numbers
Maybe you take the next step and you do put numbers and letters in your password. Where you put those numbers matters, however. Too many of us simply put a string of numbers at the front or at the end of our passwords. If you want to create a stronger password, sprinkle numbers throughout it, and don’t simply bunch them all together. Also, don’t use obvious numbers, such as your street address, the year you were born, or the years during which your children were born.
4. You rely on short passwords
It’s difficult to remember long, complicated passwords. But such passwords are also more difficult to crack. Don’t create a password that’s too short. Online security experts have different opinions on this, but keep your passwords at least 12 characters long, and you’ll be a lot better off. The longer your password, the more work hackers have to do to guess it. Many might give up and go after less difficult passwords.
5. You follow well-known patterns
You might think you’ve created a complex password, one filled with letters, numbers, and symbols. But if your password follows certain well-known patterns, hackers can crack it with little effort, relying on password-cracking programs.
Security consultant KoreLogic in 2014 studied the users at an anonymous Fortune 100 company. It found that about half of the users relied on five patterns to create their passwords. KoreLogic discovered, too, that 85 percent of the users at this company relied on just 100 common password patterns.
What are the three most common patterns that KoreLogic uncovered? Users relied on one uppercase, five lowercase and then two digits, such as Pdregt45. They also relied on one uppercase letter, six lowercase letters and two digits, such as Tjiktrg39, and one uppercase letter, three lowercase letters and four digits, such as Pewy1476.
When creating passwords, then, avoid these most common of patterns. Your password might seem perfectly random to you. Hackers won’t see it the same way.
6. You start your password with an uppercase letter
Mixing upper- and lowercase letters in your passwords is a good idea. But don’t start your password with an uppercase letter and then follow it with a string of letters that are all lowercase. Instead, randomly capitalize letters throughout your passwords.
7. You aren’t careful with exclamation marks
Some sites might require passwords that include not just letters and numbers, but at least one symbol, too. Adding symbols can dramatically increase the complexity of your password. Just don’t fulfill the symbol requirement by putting an exclamation point at the very end of your password. Too many users already do that, and it makes cracking your password an easier task.
8. You always place numbers next to each other, no matter where you put them
So, you avoid the common mistake of putting numbers only at the beginning and end of your passwords. That’s good. But don’t place numbers next to each other, either. Users have the habit of bunching numbers together in their passwords, no matter where they put them. This is another common mistake that makes your passwords easier to hack.
How to manage all these passwords
Following all the above tips poses one big problem: How are you supposed to remember all these random and long strings of numbers, letters, and characters?
One way is to use a password manager, like LastPass, Dashlane, or 1Password. This allows you to store your passwords through their encrypted and secure system, so when you visit a site, your login credentials will be saved and you can login without needing to remember your password. Unless you have a superb memory or don’t have very many online accounts, this is one of the safest ways to keep your passwords and have it easily accessible.