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Protecting the Keys to Your Kingdom

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October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. During this month, we will explain things you can do to help protect yourself. To kick things off, let’s talk about one of the most common things we use: passwords.

Think of passwords as the keys to your personal kingdom. They are used to protect social media, banking, email, work accounts and various other websites. Most people probably have roughly 20 to 30 user accounts. Trying to remember passwords for each of those accounts is extremely difficult. In order to make things easier we commonly use one moderately complex and easy to remember password to protect all our accounts. This is not a safe practice!

Television and movies portray hackers as nefarious characters typing in passwords in order to break into systems. This is not actually the case. Systems send, receive and store passwords encrypted (unreadable). In order to decipher the password they stole, hackers compare the encrypted password to lists of thousands and thousands of well-known, already encrypted passwords in order to find a match.

The longer and more unpredictable the characters of a password, the harder it is to decode. It takes a hacker:

  • Less than 30 seconds to decode an eight-character password made up of all numbers.

  • Less than an hour to decode an eight-character password comprised of all letters or letters and numbers.

  • About 18 hours to decode an eight-character password composed of upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation.

  • Even longer to decode a password if it is 20-characters long.
However, it would be difficult to try and remember 30 different passwords comprised of 20 characters for each of your accounts. A simple solution to this is to use a password manager.

Password managers, or password vaults, are applications designed to help generate and store online credentials and various other sensitive information. The concept of a password manager is fairly simple. Instead of trying to remember 30 different passwords, you store login information in a secure password vault protected by one very long passphrase. Passphrases are something similar to a sentence without spaces. Additionally, passphrases may include special characters, a mixture of upper and lower case letters and numbers.

Here is an example of a passphrase: pleaseP@$$methesaltketchupch33secrackers,andplates.

It would take centuries for a hacker to decode this.

There are a variety of free and commercial password managers to choose from. Prices for password managers are typically based on an annual subscription and cost $10 to $30 per year. Some provide options for local storage of information on your computer while others allow you to store the information online. Online options allow for additional flexibility such as browser integration and synchronization with mobile devices. However, not all password managers are the same. Key things to look for include:

  • Is it compatible with your computer’s operating system (e.g. current version of Windows)?

  • Is the company that developed it well known?

  • Does it allow you to automatically generate long and complex passwords?
Password managers provide strong alternatives to using and reusing short, weak passwords. Do yourself and your online identity a favor; take some time today to research password managers and find one that best fits your needs and budget.

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