How to Create Hacker-Proof Passwords

(Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
(Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

A strong password is a pain to create, remember and type. That’s why far too many people settle for passwords that are weaker and easier to remember than they should. But, strong passwords are essential for keeping hackers and snoopers out of your online accounts.

Fortunately, I know a few good tricks to make passwords easier to create and remember. Before I get to that, though, let’s refresh your memory on three critical ground rules for creating strong passwords.

1. Don’t make the password easy to guess

Whenever there’s a big data breach and user passwords are exposed, security companies always make a list of the most common passwords people were using. In fact, they made one for the Adobe data breach that happened at the end of 2013.

The five most common passwords were “123456,” “123456789,” “password,” “adobe123,” and “12345678.” You can read the full list here. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Genius!”

Hackers look at these lists, too, and they have computer programs that can guess common passwords, plus millions of other passwords, in minutes. Even passwords you think are “hard” might not be as hard to figure out as you think. If you want an example, see how easily this Microsoft Research site can guess a password from the first few letters.

The Defense Department’s research agency, DARPA, released a study in 2013 that tracked passwords at a Fortune 100 company and found that about half followed five common patterns. Here are three of the most common patterns found in the study:

— One uppercase, five lowercase and three digits (Example: Komand123)

— One uppercase, six lowercase and two digits (Example: Komando12)

— One uppercase, three lowercase and five digits (Example: Koma12345)

These are just things people do without thinking about them. However, if you make a password with any of those common patterns, it makes a password-guessing program’s job a lot easier.

Obviously, you shouldn’t use those patterns or anything like them. The same goes for using special dates; names of spouses, children, relatives or pets; or any password using the full name of the service you’re making the password for.

The strongest password is one that contains a random collection of letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers and symbols. Of course, that’s nearly impossible to remember, but we’ll deal with that further on.

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SOURCE: Kim Komando
Special for USA TODAY