The phrase “cyber hygiene” may sound like the name of a new sci-fi movie franchise, but it’s actually an incredibly useful practice to amp up your online security. Digital Guardian defines cyber hygiene this way: “Much like an individual engages in certain personal hygiene practices to maintain good health and well-being, cyber hygiene practices can keep data safe and well-protected.”
Using best practices to create and manage passwords is one of the most important components of good cyber hygiene. Weak passwords are a top entry point for hackers, with Microsoft reporting in 2019 that 44 million accounts were vulnerable to account takeover due to compromised or stolen passwords. Read on for tips on how to create more hack-resistant passwords and keep your cyber hygiene squeaky clean.
How to Set a Strong Password
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put together a list of instructions for making your password as strong as possible, which includes the following tips:
- Your password should be at least 12 characters. A good rule of thumb for a password is that the longer it is, the stronger it is.
- Don’t reuse passwords you’ve used on other accounts. Remember that while setting the same password for all major platforms may make it easier for you to log in, it makes it easier for fraudsters to hack in too.
- Opt in for multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
Make your security questions as difficult as possible. Avoid using security questions with answers that can easily be verified online (birthday, college attended, zip code, etc). This drastically reduces the chance that a hacker can successfully reset your password using the “Forgot Password” option.
How to Store Multiple Passwords
You may be hesitant to change the login information on your major accounts out of fear that you can’t keep track of multiple passwords. Fortunately, there are several options for remembering your passwords that are still secure:
- Use a password manager. A password manager is designed to store and manage online credentials, usually by storing your passwords in an encrypted database.
- Go the low tech route and write down your passwords in a notebook or file, stored out of sight. If possible, keep this document locked in a file cabinet, safe or strongbox.
Hints That You May Need to Change Your Password
The experts haven’t yet agreed on how often you should change your passwords, but there are certain situations where a password change is always advisable:
- In the event of a data breach
- If you receive an email confirming that your account has been accessed on a computer or phone you don’t recognize
- If you think your password may have been compromised through email or text
- If your password is leaked onto the dark web (Pro tip: AAA Identity Champion offers dark web monitoring to give you an early warning when your info is leaked. If you’re already a AAA member, monitoring is part of the Basic plan that’s available with your membership at no extra cost to you!)
Proper password management is imperative to cyber hygiene, but it never hurts to have some extra help to keep your online presence squeaky clean. AAA Identity Champion adds an extra layer of protection with services like dark web and social media monitoring, plus experts to guide you through the recovery process if your information is used to commit fraud.