5 Tips for Better Password Security

Your first line of defense against identity theft is your password. In fact, if you want to protect your sensitive data, your password is extremely important.

One of the reasons that the Heartbleed vulnerability was so scary was that it had the potential to expose your passwords to hackers and scammers. If you want better password security, consider implementing the following tips:

password security

1. Don’t Use the Same Password for Everything

One of the oldest tricks in the hacker book is to get one username and password combination. Many people use the same information to protect multiple accounts. If someone manages to hit upon your username and password for one site, s/he can simply try a bunch of other major sites, using the information, and checking to see if it’s possible to get in.

If you want to protect yourself from this sort of problem, it makes sense to use different passwords for different sites. It’s not fun to remember all those passwords, but it’s safer. There are a number of tools, such as 1Password, that can help you keep track of everything easily, while still allowing you to protect your personal information with good password security.

2. Change Some of Your Passwords Regularly

Next, make sure you change some of your passwords regularly. Some passwords don’t actually need to be changed all that often. Interestingly, studies indicate that changing a bank password every three to six months might not matter.

However, it does make sense to change your password to email, social media, and other similar services regularly because these are accounts that people will wait around to “listen” in on. Switching it up can confound someone who is waiting for you to divulge important information via these accounts.

3. Choose Something Unconnected to Your Life

Many people choose their pets’ names, kids’ birthdates, and other publicly available information for their passwords. While this can make it easier to remember, it also makes it easier for scammers and hackers to guess your password. If you want better password security, you need to move away from your life as a source for inspiration.

When you choose a password that can be cracked by personal information that someone can glean by looking at your Facebook profile or reading your blog, you are setting yourself up for difficulty. Instead, choose passwords that are unconnected to your life, and make it a point to keep them as random as possible. If you have a password tool, it can help you keep track of those unusual passwords more effectively.

4. Make It Long

One of the keys to a more secure password is length. Many web sites require that you choose a password that is at least six or eight characters. This is because the longer a password is, the more combinations are possible — and the harder it is to crack.

So, even though the web site might impose a minimum on you, that’s no reason to just stick with the minimum. In fact, there are indications that you should have a password of at least 12 characters for best effect.

Once again, it’s important not to put memorability above security. In today’s world, since almost everything important is online, you really do need to protect yourself. Make your password as long as you can (many sites have a 16 character limit) and use a password tool to help you keep track of everything.

5. Mix It Up With Letters, Numbers, and Symbols

Mixing it up can make your password even harder to crack. Rather than using all numbers or all letters, mix it up a little. Incorporate number, letters, and symbols into a your password. And try to make it random. It’s much harder for someone to crack a password like 6Th*1s_dM&2x than it is if you use something like Grizz1989.

A combination of upper case and lower case letters is a good idea as well. Try to make your password as random as possible, since that will make it harder to crack. Some web sites won’t let you add symbols to your password, you might just have to work with letters and numbers. But with a good mix and a little randomness with your capitalization, you can still create a pretty decent password.

Do You REALLY Need to Provide Your Social Security Number?

When I first attended college, my student ID number was my Social Security number. This seemed a little sketchy to me, but I was 18, and I didn’t worry too much about it. A couple years later, they school changed its policy and we all got new student ID numbers that didn’t list our Social Security numbers.

On top of that, I’ve noticed that there is an option to include the Social Security number on your driver’s license in my state. I always check the box that says no, I do not want my SSN visible. I’ve become very protective of my SSN because I know how it can be used to steal my identity and open fraudulent accounts.

Social Security Number

However, sometimes I feel as though I’m fighting a losing battle because Social Security numbers have basically become ID numbers. When the SSN was originally introduced, it wasn’t supposed to be a national ID. But with the digitization of information, and the rise of the credit industry, it’s been easy for the SSN to become the de facto national ID.

The good news, though, is that you don’t really need to provide your SSN every time it’s asked for. Just as there’s no need to write out your credit card number anymore, there is also no reason to share your SSN with anyone who asks. And if someone tries to tell you that your ID number is the same as your SSN, you usually have the option of asking them to assign you a different number for identification. There’s no reason to just hand over your personal information just because you’re asked. With data breaches becoming increasingly common, now is the time to take a deep breath and determine whether or not you really want to share your SSN.

Who Needs Your SSN?

When I go to the doctor, and fill out the information form, there is a space for my Social Security number. However, I usually leave that blank. My doctor doesn’t need my SSN; the office already has my insurance information. Likewise, the doctor also doesn’t need my spouse’s SSN (which is also asked for on the form).

In many cases, sharing your SSN isn’t very necessary. If you have a government issued ID, and other forms of identification, using your Social Security number as another form isn’t exactly required in most cases.

Unfortunately, there are times when you have to share that information. If you want to open a bank account or apply for credit, you will need to share your SSN, since that is the main way that credit reports are looked up. (This is something that probably ought to be changed.)

Additionally, you need to give your SSN to your employer. When you are hired, and filling out paperwork that results in your FICA taxes (which include money being taken out for Social Security), you need to provide your SSN.

However, even when you are in a situation where your SSN is required, you can still be careful. One common scam is for someone posing as an employer to ask for your Social Security number on the application. The reality is that you shouldn’t need to provide that information when you’re applying for a job. If someone asks for that information before you are hired, it makes sense to be very, very careful. You could be dealing with a scammer.

Your SSN and Your Business

If you own your own business, one of the best things you can do is get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You should use your EIN for all business-related items. Filling out a 1099? Use your EIN. Signing up for credit or working with vendors? Provide your EIN. This is a good way to keep your personal Social Security number more protected.

Even if you are a sole proprietor, it makes sense to apply for an EIN, just so that you can use that number, instead of spreading your SSN about.

And, of course, you want to make sure that you keep tabs on your credit, just to make sure that your identity hasn’t been compromised.