Tech Talk: Create Strong Passwords

October 11, 2012 09:51 AM

with Dino Giacomazzi

DinoGiacomazzi blueOne of the best things about living next door to my mother is the joy of providing her with 24-hour tech support.

Recently she gave her Yahoo! Mail username and password to Nigerian Internet pirates. These clever fellows took control of her e-mail, sent a virus to all her friends and then deleted her contacts. This created quite a stir among her friends since they all received e-mail from her stating she was stranded in London and needed money.

The pirates were able to trick my mother into giving up her information with a little virus that popped up a message that said, "Your Yahoo account is about to be closed permanently. If you would like to keep your account active, log in below." Not knowing any better, she sent her password to the pirates. Lucky for her it was only her e-mail.

These scams are happening all the time with banks and credit cards. So here is the lesson: Never enter your login information into a web browser unless you know it to be legitimate.

For example, if you bank at Wells Fargo and want to log into your online account, make sure the address in the web browser is in fact, not something like

This address gives your bank account information to pirates in Russia. In addition to verifying the authenticity of websites before entering sensitive information, strong passwords help keep your information secure as well.

Here are a few tips for strong and secure passwords:

• Use a different password for every website you visit.
• Make your passwords long, with 10 or more characters.
• Include both lower- and uppercase letters as well as numbers, punctuation and symbols.
• Don’t use common words found in the dictionary; make up acronyms from phrases you can easily remember. Example: "Dairy Today magazine is the best." Use the first letter from each word, and your password would "DTmitb."
• Change your passwords often.

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Most people don’t follow these rules because it is difficult to remember so many passwords. A simple way to create unique passwords for each website is to build them from a formula. For example:

1. Pick a number you will remember. Don’t use your birthday or ATM PIN number. For this example, let’s use the number 42.

2. Create an acronym like "DTmitb."

3. Pick some special characters. I’ll use "<>."

4. String all of these together and you end up with 42DTmitb<>. This will be the basis for all your passwords.

5. Say this particular password is for Facebook: Add the first and last letters of the name, and your final password will be 42DTmitb<>Fk. For Gmail it would be 42DTmitb<>Gl, and so on.

This formula is only one example of millions of combinations. Take some time to sketch out your own formula; then go change all your passwords.

Every six months, come up with a new formula and change them all again. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. But lunch in exchange for fixing your mother’s computer is probably the closest thing to it.

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