How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?

Introduction
As we move relentlessly and aggressively towards a more digital world, the personal data is being exposed to more risk and invasions. According to recent reports, there were 16.7 million reported cases of identity theft in the US in 2017. The estimated cost of this identity theft is $17 billion. Cybercrimes take a toll on the global economy. It is estimated that the annual cost to the global economy from cybercrimes is approximately $445. Password theft and identity theft are becoming common and the users need to be cautious to protect themselves against it. Informed netizens can protect themselves better against the hackers by following basic guidelines and taking the appropriate precautions. The current article provides the dangers associated with password theft and identity theft and the basic precautions to follow for safeguarding against the same.

Considerations for Choosing a Strong Password
While the internet has become a part of our daily lives, we have still not evolved as fast. There are multiple applications which require users to create a password to access. These passwords are the gateway to access the applications and get the job done. Choosing a strong password is important as hackers and cyber criminals are constantly on the prowl for password theft. Recent studies have shown that the most common passwords used by people online include “passwords”, “123456” etc. These are passwords which are very easy to crack and puts the person in grave danger. To protect themselves from the potential dangers of password theft, the users can take care of the following considerations:
How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?
Choose a Long Password
The first step towards building a strong password which is difficult to hack is choosing a long password. Most of the applications today ask the users to have a password consisting of minimum 6-8 characters. The hackers these days use the “brute force attack” method of cracking passwords. Using this technology, a computer program which is very powerful runs through and generates every possible combination of letters, numbers, and characters as fast as possible to crack the user’s password. The longer the password is, the more complex it will become and it will take longer to crack using the “brute force attack”. It is estimated that passwords which consist of only three characters can be cracked in less than 1 second using this hacking technology.

Use Random Characters
While using long passwords is a good beginning to safeguard one from password theft, using long passwords with random characters is considered even better. The password should be unpredictable and a long password which is obvious and predictable is no good. It can be easily guessed and hacked. Random phrases and words which are not in the dictionary and which do not make any sense are much harder to crack than regular passwords. It is also important not to use the sequential characters in a qwerty keyboard as it can be easily cracked by the hackers leading to password theft.

Use Special Characters and Different Cases
Passwords should not consist of running text. The password should be strong and difficult to guess for anyone. It should consist of special characters (#, $, %, &, @ etc.) along with the running text. It should also make use of different cases of alphabets. There should be at least one character in uppercase to make the password stronger. Using a combination of characters in lower case, upper case, and special characters make the password more complex and stronger. Hackers will find it much difficult to hack such passwords compared to the ones consisting of only running text. Almost all the online platforms now make it mandatory to use different cases and special characters in the password.
How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?
Avoid Personal Information
To remember the passwords easily, most of us use personal information in the passwords. This can help to remember the passwords but it also makes us susceptible to password thefts. The personal information of people like their birthdate, anniversary date, city of birth, high school, mother’s name etc. can be known to many others. This makes it much easier for anyone to guess and steal the password. When selecting security questions and answers, the ones which are not very obvious to everyone should be selected. Thus, one should be careful not to provide any of their personal information which is known to others in choosing their password.

Don’t Reuse Passwords
We use many online applications daily and have to maintain a separate password for each one of them. This is difficult as keeping separate passwords and memorizing them for multiple application is very cumbersome. Most people use the same password for different applications. They may have the same password for their email accounts and the bank accounts. While this may seem convenient with fewer passwords to remember, it is a very risky thing to do. It is much easier to crack a single password than cracking different passwords for each application. Hence, unique password should be created and kept safely for each application to protect from password theft.

Use a Password Manager
Managing multiple password can be difficult to remember. For people who find it difficult to memorize and manage their multiple passwords, using a password manager is the perfect solution. A password manager is a software which auto-generates strong passwords on the user’s behalf. It keeps the generated passwords in an encrypted file in a centralized location which the user can access by using a master password. These passwords are then supplied by the password manager to the user’s web browser on demand. Using a password manager relieves the users from remembering and storing multiple passwords in an unsecured place which can later be hacked leading to password theft incidents.
How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?
Don’t Share Passwords
The passwords should be protected and kept under the wraps. Some people have the habit of sharing their passwords for different applications with their family and friends. This is a very dangerous habit and makes them highly vulnerable to password thefts. The password of any personal application should not be written loosely or kept in a place where it is visible to others. The passwords should not be stored on a file in the computer which is easy prey for experienced hackers. The passwords for any application- email, bank, or any other utility- should never be shared with any other person to ensure protection from password theft.

Change Passwords Regularly
It is important to keep changing passwords regularly. Even strong passwords can be hacked by unscrupulous elements sometimes. Hackers are also continuously evolving and getting better at password theft. They keep trying to crack the passwords using newer and more advanced technologies. Changing the password regularly keeps the users protected from password theft. Once the password has been changed, the changed password should not be used again for logging in to the existing or any other platform.

Tips for Protecting Identity Theft
An identity theft means that the personal information of any person is being used without their knowledge. Identity theft is very risky as cybercriminals can easily run up debts and do illegal activities using someone else’s identity and the person whose identity has been stolen will be liable for the charges. However, with some basic practices, users can protect themselves against the dangers of identity theft. Some important tips for safeguarding against identity theft are discussed below:

Check Credit Reports
One of the most effective and important measures to protect against identity theft is to regularly check the credit report. Monitoring the credit report allows the users to track their credit history. The users can apply for their credit report from any of the national credit bureaus and review them intensively to identify any suspicious or fraudulent transactions. If there is any unusual activity on the accounts, then it should be reported to the authorities immediately. If the bills are not coming on time then it may also mean that someone has changed the contact information to hide the discrepancies and fraudulent charges.
How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?
Protect the Social Security Number
It is important that people should not share their Social Security Number (SSN) with any client or companies. The SSN should not be shared, especially over the email or phone. Generally, companies ask the last 4 digits of the SSN for selling any product or service, if required. If anyone is asking for sharing the complete SSN, then the users should be wary of them and should not share the SSN at any cost. It is also not a good practice to carry the SSN regularly in the wallet, as it can be lost or stolen and can be used for identity theft.

Beware of Phishing Emails and Phone Calls
Phishing emails and phone calls are on the rise. These emails and phone calls are targeted towards obtaining the personal and sensitive information of the users which is then used by the hackers for identity theft. Most hackers phish the users by pretending to be from their banks, stores, or some government agencies. They may ask for passwords, PIN details, and other personal information from the users. When they receive such an email or phone call, they should not respond by providing their personal information. In case of phone calls, they should verify the identity and credentials of the caller. If they find something suspicious, they should immediately report it to the relevant authorities.

Don’t Overshare on Social Media
Social media has become an integral part of most people’s lives. We share almost all aspects of our lives on social media. People sometimes even overshare information on the social media which may make them vulnerable to cybercriminals. While one is free and safe to share photographs of vacations and other memorable events, sharing of any personal information over social media is fraught with risk. Hackers can easily get hold of the personal information shared and use it for identity theft and cyber-crimes.

Protect the Mobile and Computers
Our mobiles and computers are the repository of all sorts of personal information. They contain sensitive data which can be easily hacked by the identity thieves either online or offline. It is important to keep these gadgets secure and protected at all times to prevent identity theft. The mobiles and computers should be locked with strong passwords. All the sensitive documents stored should also be password protected to ensure additional safety. Users should not install malicious software in their devices which can eavesdrop and steal data from their systems. They should install good quality internet security, firewall, and spyware protection to ensure that the hackers are unable to steal data from their system.
How Really Safe Are Your Passwords?
Destroy all Personal Information After Use
Hackers can access the personal information of the users from different documents like bank account statements, utility bills or any other document containing private and sensitive information. Most people generally throw these documents in the trash. Even the simplest personal information available in these documents can be used by the identity thieves to steal one’s identity. Hence, it is strongly recommended that all these documents containing personal information should be properly shredded before discarding it in the trash to protect from identity theft.

Be Cautious While Doing Online Transactions
With the widespread proliferation of the internet, people have the convenience of doing their day to day routines through the online platform. Paying utility bills like telephone bills, electricity bills, water bill, insurance premiums etc. can be easily done online. The advent of e-commerce has also resulted in customers making online payments for their orders. While it has made doing the transactions easier for the customers, online transactions should be done by taking appropriate preventive measures to avoid identity theft and scams. Customers should verify if the payment page is secured or not. Only secured web pages starting with “https” in the address bar and displaying a padlock symbol in the bottom of the browser window should be trusted for doing any transaction. Data transmitted over secured web pages are encrypted and cannot be accessed by the hackers. CWP

by John Young

The TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live! In a “person on the street” segment, an interviewer found it fairly easy to convince—or trick—people into sharing their passwords. Have a look below, Wow!!

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