There was an old email account of mine that I lost the password to. It was over 10 years since I had used it, but it was an itch I tried to scratch every couple of years. I tried everything I had ever used and in many different combinations. I went so far back as to dig out my original piece of paper from when my first non-dial-up Internet was installed in my house. This paper was torn and faded but filled with my original passwords from my early DSL days. None of them were for that account and none of the combos on that physical page worked.
I finally got phone support from the company to call me and back when the account was set up it didn’t ask any security questions and didn’t have a recovery email. Nothing could be done, said the voice on the other end of my iPhone. It was lost forever. I thanked the voice and as I hung up I tried something that was so obvious that I can’t believe I hadn’t done it before.
I typed in the name of my pet cat I had when the account was made. It worked.
Why didn’t I try that earlier? Because I thought I would have never have gone that simple! “Really? Daisy is what you used” I thought, scolding myself for being so simplistic.
Passwords are more important now then ever. As people can access your information remotely from the billions of “clouds” floating around the world without even being at your machine, you need to make sure your password choices are very secure.
So, if your password is your pet’s name then change it now! I can wait.
But was your next choice just as predicable? How can I avoid using something someone can guess?
First, don’t use a password that people can associate with you. Remember, as you post on social networks it tells the world of your likes and hobbies. I might try something football-related if I know you are a huge Eagles fan. The X Files had shown Mulder’s password as “trustno1”, so if I know you love that show then that just might lead me into your email account.
Second, don’t use an actual word. A dictionary is a great cheat sheet for hackers in guessing what your password might me. Replace letters with characters. An example of this is $h¢rb¢rt. It’s still a word I can remember, but by replacing the letters with look-a-like characters then it’s not so easy to guess.
Also, using some sort of mnemonic is a great alternative. “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” from my elementary school days has stuck with me for remembering the lines on the treble clef. Why not use the first letters of a phrase you say in your head to your new password? IWBIMOAWSD is tough to remember unless you are saying “I Was Born In Miami On A Warm Summer Day” in your head as you type it.
Third and final: stop using your birthday in your password. Again, thanks to social networking we all know your birthday is 11/14/68 and will be trying those combos in with your pet’s name.
Now, you might be thinking ‘ok, I now have my passwords changed but how do I remember them all?’ Well, good news…there are apps for that! Apps like 1Password or LastPass, or features built-in to your phone, like iCloud Keychain in iOS, safely store all those passwords in one, easy place. And even help you create strong passwords, too. So you spend less time writing on sticky notes, and stay safer online.