When accessing websites online or using various online services, you are often asked to create a unique user name and password. A password is a unique identifier of letters and/or numbers which allow a computer user to gain access to a computer and all of its files. In addition, most online activity (such as shopping, participating in an online discussion or simply signing up to receive a coupon or an electronic newsletter) now requires the selection of a user name and a password.

Secure Passwords

Ideally, a secure password is one which no one else can guess and which is resistant to being hacked, that is, having one's online information breached, and thus leading to the danger of having one's identity, credit card information and/or money stolen. In order to make your passwords less susceptible to compromise, you should seek to create passwords that avoid dictionary words and use six or more characters with a mix of letters and numbers and upper-case and lower-case letters to create the strongest password possible. You should also create a new password for each site on which you engage in online commerce, avoid using the same password for all of your online accounts - and never share these passwords with anyone.

Since users are being asked more and more to think of unique user names and/or passwords, many are resorting to less than creative solutions. For example, many users will choose easy to remember passwords (such as admin, 12345, their own first name or year of birth or even the word "password") to make this process more manageable. Unfortunately, these solutions are risky as they make one much more susceptible to being intercepted by a computer hacker. Avoid the use of obvious passwords such as your birthday, nickname, mother's maiden name, phone number or the name of your pet.

Many Internet service providers now offer guidance on strategies to select a password which is less likely to be hacked. These strategies include:

  • Choose a long password (12 or more characters) rather than a short one
  • Instead of a single word, use a combination of upper case and lower case letters, numbers and/or symbols
  • Avoid using dictionary words
  • Use a phrase for a password such as "mydogsnameisfluffy."
  • Create a password which is actually an acronym for a phrase that only you would know, such as: "My favorite food is the Chicago style pizza they have at 19 Main Street" becomes the password: MffitCspth@19MS.
  • Take advantage of free password selecting software located via any Internet search engine.

Storing Passwords

Some websites provide the user with an option to allow the computer to remember usernames and/or passwords. Although this is a convenient feature, in general, it is more prudent not to rely on these options. It is recommended that you use the "Delete stored passwords" feature (typically found under "tools" and then "Internet options"), available through most Internet browsers, to increase your password security.