SANDY BERGER: Give Some Thought to Passwords
Passwords are a common method of keeping computer data safe and secure.
A password is a secret sequence of characters that enables a computer user to access a file, a computer or a computer program. If a program or file is password-protected, you cannot access that file without the proper password.
This security can keep an intruder from accessing your computer files. Yet hackers are getting more and more sophisticated in their methodology, so we must be diligent in choosing passwords.
Ideally a password should be a combination of characters that is unique to the user. In reality, most people choose a password that can be easily guessed.
In trouble-shooting computer problems, I sometimes need to access a computer when the user is not readily available to supply his password. If I am even scarcely acquainted with the user, I can guess their password more than 50 percent of the time. I find the most commonly used passwords are the following:
user's own name or initials
favorite sport, team, hobby or recording artist.
birthdays (Women also use their wedding date or children's birthdays. Men never seem to use these.)
You would not believe how many men use Yankees, Bears or Broncos for their password. Sports terms such as golf, tennis, birdie and touchdown are also very popular.
People often choose the first word they see when working on the computer. So many use the brand name of the computer because it is right in front of them when they are trying to choose a password.
And the word "password" is also very popular.
A predictable password is one reason that it is so easy to break into most computer systems. A password should never be this easy to guess.
In fact, a password should not even be a word at all. Hackers use easily accessible tools to try various words and word combinations when they try to hack passwords.
Creating a Password
If you want a password that is more difficult to break, choose a combination of words, numbers and symbols. You can do this and still make your password easy to remember. A good password might be "g$reatda$y" or "h#appytime#s."
You might also find a clever password by finding a phrase and using the first letter from each word. "Every dog has his day" would be "edhhd." "A penny saved is a penny earned" would be "apsiape." "Four score and seven years ago" becomes "4sasya."
You can also create a password from parts of words pasted together, such as, "lovmar" for love and marriage or "rewhi&blu" for red, white, and blue. Adding a number, several numbers and/or keyboard symbols such as exclamation points and asterisks to these passwords makes them even more secure. So "7edhhd3#" would be an even better password.
You might also try using a certain character to represent a letter. For instance, say you choose the password "littleblackcat." Change the letter "l" to the number 1, and change the "t" to the number 7, and you get "1i77b1ackca7." You can get as creative as you like with this method, while still maintaining a password that you can remember.
Most passwords are case-sensitive, so you can also use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters to make the password more unique.
Variety of Passwords
Another common mistake people make is to use the same password over and over again. OK, I know you visit many Web sites that require passwords, and it can be difficult to keep track of all the passwords that you accumulate.
It's OK to use the same password for common Internet sites. Say you register at a Web site that you use to get the news and you also register at a site that you visit daily for the weather. Feel free to use the same password for both of these sites.
However, if you work with classified or financial information, be very careful with your password. If you use a Web site for financial transactions, you will want to create a unique password that is more difficult to guess for that Web site.
A devious but clever scheme to get passwords is to offer something enticing on the Internet asking for a password. If you use the same password there that you use for your important data, you have just jeopardized the integrity of your data.
Keep It Secret
Passwords should never be shared. A password is only good if it is kept a secret.
Ideally, passwords should never be written down, although, in reality, most folks do like to document their passwords in some way. Just be sure that you don't keep a password list in your computer or in any obvious place.
If you want to keep your password a secret, remember they can be stolen by observation. Be cautious of anyone looking over your shoulder when you type in your password.
Changing Your Password
Many major corporations require their employees change passwords at least once a month. Occasionally changing your password is a good idea.
If you use Outlook Express, Outlook, Vista Mail, or another e-mail program that resides on your own computer, your e-mail password is set by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). You can access your account online to change your password. If you don't know where to do that, just call your ISP.
All online e-mail services such as Yahoo Mail, Gmail and Hot Mail allow you to change your own passwords. Just click on "Help," put in the words "change password" and you will be presented with instruction on changing your password.
While you do have to worry and fret about passwords today, in the near future passwords may be as obsolete as the Pony Express.
The future of security lies in biometric identification. Instead of having to supply and remember passwords, the computer will be able to identify you by your own individual physical characteristics.
Every human being on the planet has unique fingerprints. The pattern of the iris of your eye is also unique. Even an individual's voice is comprised of a distinctive set of characteristics.
Even though passwords may soon become obsolete, right now we have to deal with them. So remember that passwords can protect your data -- if you use them wisely.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your questions and comments on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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