Computer Password Tips and Strategies

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Most of us have several computer or internet “accounts” which provide us with many free services such as email, movies (Netflix), video communications (Skype), photo printing (at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, etc.), music (I-Tunes), banking, shopping, games, entertainment, books, and many more. In fact, your computer is the perfect window to the world and all the people and services in it! But each account you set up requires some sort of “ID” and a password. For example, your email account is your email address and it requires a password to access your email. Many other accounts will use your email address as your ID (so they can email you notices and ads) but will require another password. How do you handle all your accounts and passwords?  Here are some helpful tips:

1. ALWAYS WRITE DOWN EVERY ACCOUNT AND PASSWORD YOU HAVE. I cannot emphasize this enough. Review this list every few months and make sure it is current. Keep it with you when you travel. Keeping them on a small portable “jump” drive is a good idea too. You may have set up your computer at home to easily access your email, perhaps telling the computer to “remember me” or your password for you, but when you travel or use another computer you will need your passwords!  Personally, I do not ever allow my computer to “remember” any of my passwords – I enter the password from the keyboard each time I “log in” any account. That way, no matter what computer I am using, the way I access my account stays the same – I always enter my account and password.

2. Write down the internet address of the web page where you enter your account and password. Many people use a “favorite” or an icon on the desktop to quickly get to the “log in” screen for their account. This is ok, but if you use another computer you will not have your shortcuts!  So write down the web page address needed for each account.

3. The longer and more complex a password is, the safer it is. In fact, many services now require a password of 8 or more characters with some digits or other “non-letter” characters. Some accounts may require you to periodically change your password. But, hey, we are not spies guarding government secrets. Keep your passwords simple. Use unusual combinations which are easy for you but would be difficult for someone else to guess. Children’s names, birthdates, and home address numbers are too easy for someone to guess since such information can be obtained without too much effort. Instead, try the make and model of your first car, a childhood favorite game or toy, the name of your superhero, the nickname you gave to your worst in-law, etc. Get the idea?  Easy for you but hard for someone else to guess, and impossible to find out without knowing you personally.

4. Yes, you can use the same password for multiple accounts. Now if someone really wanted to use your Skype account or read your email and they had a hint to one of your passwords, it would be much easier for them to guess your other passwords. So your security is reduced. But, honestly now, who would really want to steal your passwords anyway?  Who would care?  Well, ok, maybe for banking or credit card accounts I would be more careful, but for most other accounts I do not feel the need for a super secure password, so I do use the same password or a variation of it for several accounts.

In business, things are different. Most companies are very careful about computer and telecommunication security. But for personal home use, I think you can be much less paranoid.

But remember -- If your computer is repaired or replaced, or if you use another computer, you will need to have your passwords!

By Jim Cerny, Director, Sarasota PCUG, Florida

March 2012 issue, Sarasota PC Monitor

www.spcug.org