We have more and more options for moving parts of our lives online, including—but definitely not limited to—social media, banking, shopping, reading or watching the news, and, of course, working. It’s a huge convenience to be able to take care of so many things from our own homes with just a keyboard and Internet access.

One big downside of doing everything digitally is the need for effective security, so that hackers don’t run off with vital personal and financial information. The main way we keep our dozens of accounts secure is by assigning passwords. Choosing and using passwords is a familiar ritual by now for anyone who has an online presence, but it can also be the weakest link in the security chain.

The Problem With Passwords

Once you’ve chosen a safe password, however, you need to remember it. Multiply that need to every single site that you log in to, and the task quickly becomes overwhelming.

Many people solve this problem by just using one password or a handful of passwords everywhere. While this makes it easier to remember your password, it’s a huge security mistake. Hackers know that people tend to reuse passwords, so if they get access to one of your online accounts, it’s very simple for them to try accessing more of your accounts by using the same login information. If you use the same password everywhere, all a hacker needs is one password to get into your entire digital life.

Other common password creation techniques are to use personal information such as birthdays, spouse or children names. Again, this is a big mistake from a security perspective, because this kind of information is much too easy to find in public sources.

Many Internet users don’t think about passwords ahead of when they need them. When signing up for a new site or service, most people don’t think about needing a new password until they are asked for one. Because they are already in the middle of a task, they don’t want to pause and think of a new, unique but easily memorized password, so they choose something easy and familiar. Once a password is set, it often doesn’t change.

The Art of Strong Passwords

In order to create secure passwords, there are some rules you need to learn and follow. Spend some time thinking about how you will implement these rules, and the next time you need to create a password you’ll be able to make a secure password quickly.

  • Don’t use a common dictionary word(s)
  • Don’t use a word that is a piece of personal data
  • Don’t use strings of numbers or letters in alphabetical/numerical order, or in the order in which they sit on the keyboard
  • Do create a password that is 10 characters or longer
  • Do include upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters

Another way to beef up the security in a password is to replace letters with numbers or symbols, such as replacing the letter “I” with “1,” for example. If you can remember it, though, trading out a letter for a number or symbol that doesn’t resemble it at all creates even greater security, as it’s less likely that someone will guess your personal letter/number replacement.

You could also remove all of the vowels from a phrase or long word, or even shift your fingers to a different position on the keyboard before you type your password so that you can type an ordinary word, but the password will become a string of gibberish.

Password Help

Even if you are scrupulous about creating strong passwords, you still have the problem of remembering them all. You also need to type them correctly, which becomes a bigger challenge when you start using strong passwords that include odd characters in unexpected places. This is where password managers come in.

A password manager essentially does what it says. It’s a piece of software, installed on your computer or added as a plug-in to your browser, which takes care of remembering passwords for you. Because the software remembers the passwords, they don’t have to be anything easy for a person to remember. You can even use totally random strings of characters, which make for extremely strong passwords. Many password managers can even create this type of password for you. Popular password managers include 1Password, LastPass, KeePass, and Norton Identity Safe.

Password managers have their drawbacks, however. If you use a piece of software to remember your passwords, you may be out of luck if you need to log in to one of your accounts on a different device than usual, or if the software is otherwise unavailable. You also need to make sure you change your passwords frequently even if created with a password manager, because if your password stays the same long enough, it’s more likely that someone will have enough time to crack it.

The need to manage passwords isn’t going away any time soon. Learn what makes a good password, consider using a password manager to help, and you can keep your accounts and data secure.