How many passwords do you have? From ATMs to online banking to home alarm systems, Canadians rely on multiple passwords every day to access their life's information as well as protect it.
Unfortunately, many people are not doing enough to keep their passwords secure.
According to the Annual Statistical Report of 2012 from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Criminal Intelligence Analytical Unit, millions of dollars are lost every year due to fraud, and weak passwords are partly to blame.
In addition to money lost, the time and energy required to recover from these attacks is damaging as well. According to ID Alerts Canada, an identity protection services company, victims of identity theft spend an average of 600 hours recovering from the crime. What's more, this time equals nearly $16,000 in lost, potential, or realized income. Even after the thief stops using the information, victims struggle with the impact of identity theft, such as increased insurance or credit card fees, inability to find a job, higher interest rates and battling collection agencies and issuers who refuse to clear records despite substantiating evidence of the crime.
Whether it's a scam artist stealing someone's identity or a hacker accessing a person's banking information, passwords are an integral part of keeping your personal information safe.
Common password mistakes
With so many passwords to remember, many people often make the mistake of relying on an overly simple password. While convenient, this strategy can leave you vulnerable to victimization.
- Never use personal information in your passwords, such as birth dates, addresses or telephone numbers. This type of information will be the first thing used by criminals.
- Avoid over-simplified passwords, even if they're random. Sequences of letters (ABCDEF) or numbers (12345), as well as letters found adjacent to each other on keyboards (QWERTY) should not be used.
Some other common password mistakes individuals should avoid include:
- Words spelled backward (drowssap)
- Common misspellings (pasword)
- Abbreviations (psswrd)
- Obfuscations (p@ssw0rd)
According to technology firm SplashData, the top 10 worst passwords for 2012 included:
"Even though each year hacking tools get more sophisticated, thieves still tend to prefer easy targets," said Morgan Slain, SplashData CEO. "Just a little bit more effort in choosing better passwords will go a long way toward making you safer online. It just takes a few extra moments to make a password better."
There are four simple ways to make passwords more secure:
The longer a password is, the harder it will be to guess.
"Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters," states a release from SplashData. "One way to create longer, more secure passwords that are easy to remember is to use short words with spaces or other characters separating them. For example, "eat cake at 8!" or "car_park_city?"
Of course, the length of a password hardly matters if it's something simple like a string of sequential numbers. However, more complex passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols will be much harder for criminals to guess.
Even long, complex passwords can be solved eventually. Periodically changing passwords can add an additional layer of protection. While it may seem difficult to remember, especially if an individual has many passwords, setting reminders on computers and cell phones can be helpful ways to help keep passwords current.
It is also essential to have different passwords for different accounts. If a criminal finds out a person's password for one account, they will likely try to use it for others.
While this may seem like a lot of work, the energy put into stronger passwords is worth it. Needing to beef up or remember a new password is a much better problem to have than needing to report an identity theft.
In an age when consumers are increasingly going online to shop, conduct banking and other business transactions, online security is of the utmost importance. Using common sense and strengthening your PINs and passwords may not guarantee protection from identity theft and cybercrime, but it can reduce the likelihood that it will happen to you.