December 19th, 2012

Securing Your Digital Life: Password Security

If someone got a hold of your passwords, how much damage could they cause? With access to your financial data, personal information, and other information you store online, criminals could do anything from draining your bank accounts to stealing your identity. Still, many people have personal information stored in online accounts, such as social security numbers in financial aid sites and credit card information in retail sites.

As technology continues to evolve, we need to take further precautions to ensure our accounts are secured. One way to do this is through second factor authentication. Here’s SMCU’s tech expert Tyler Hardison to explain what this is and how it can be used.

Second Factor Authentication

tyler_Second factor authentication is when you protect your accounts through two different methods. Here’s an example: Imagine your front door has two different kinds of locks. If someone steals one of your keys, you’re still safe, because they also need the second key to get in. When you include a second lock, or second factor authentication, your security increases exponentially.

Some common forms of second factor authentication are receiving a security code over a text message or phone call (which is used in the new Online Banking) or using a key fob (also known as a token). Authentication consists of any of the following:

  • Something you know (like say, a password or a pin number)
  • Something you have (a key, a token, or some other device like an access card)
  • Something you are (also known as biometrics, a fingerprint for example)

When you hear the phrase “second factor” or “multi-factor” authentication, we’re referring to a combination of any of the above factors. When you combine two of them, your security is increased.

Password Management Solutions

Here are several free password management tools you can check out that may be useful when it comes to securing your passwords through second factor authentication:

Once you log into your password manager, it generates all your other passwords and enters them for you when you log into websites. Not only does this save you the trouble of having to remember your login information for each site you use, but it also keeps your passwords encrypted. This means that if hackers are trying to obtain your password, they will see it as a string of randomized characters much longer than your actual password. Here’s a video that explains how one of the above password managers, LastPass, is used:

How to Choose a Strong Password

As computing power progresses, the effectiveness of passwords is diminishing at an alarming rate. That said, it’s still essential that you use strong passwords for all of your accounts, particularly your password manager account. Here are some basic guidelines on how to create a strong password:

  • Your password should be six or more characters long. Generally, the longer it is, the better.
  • Use a random string of 3 or 4 words with a mixture of upper and lowercase letters. Purposely misspelling these words, or using made up words, will increase security.
  • Add numbers and/or special characters to the end.
  • One-word passwords that have certain letters replaced with numbers (such as “passw0rd”) should be avoided. It is now extremely easy for hackers to figure out passwords with this format.
  • Never use your username, real name, spouse’s name, phone number, or any other easily-identifiable piece of information in your password.


Now that your passwords are stronger and encrypted, your digital life is much more secure. Stay tuned for the next “Securing Your Digital Life” on Personal Identifying Information.

Check out our previous “Securing Your Digital Life” post on software patching here.


Comments are closed.