November 15th - 2012

Wired Office: Tips to keep your online passwords safe

We often hear that “strong” passwords are an important part of keeping our online transactions safe.

by Karen Ebidia

We often hear that “strong” passwords are an important part of keeping our online transactions safe. We should be using “strong” passwords for all the websites to which we log in. While a strong password may seem less important for websites that don’t contain your financial information, access to your personal information is still serious – it may make it easier for someone to steal your identity. Strong passwords should be used for all sites.

Protect your passwordsIn general, keep your personal information private and secure. Protect your PINs and passwords by not sharing them with anyone. Always shred or destroy receipts and any forms containing your personal information – tossing them in the garbage is not good enough. Carry only the credit cards you use and leave your birth certificate and social insurance card at home. You do not need these items on a daily basis.

Are you feeling paranoid yet? Here are some password recommendations:

  • Do not mimic patterns on your keyboard. Amongst the most commonly used passwords are qwerty, 123456 and the word “password”
  • Avoid using birthdates, phone numbers, addresses or names of people close to you
  • Vary the password on every site you use. If one password is ever compromised, all the other sites you use won’t be a concern. This does make it more complicated for you to remember which password is used for which site, but we’re looking at security, not simplicity
  • Change your passwords often, such as every three months
  • Select security questions that don’t involve information that everyone knows about you or can be easily found on Facebook or other social media
  • Create strong passwords. A strong password is one which contains a combination of upper and lowercase alpha characters, numbers and symbols (if permitted)
  • Try to make your password eight or more characters in length (if the website permits). The longer your password is, the harder it is to guess.

Get creative when making up passwords. Think of phrases and word/number/symbol combinations that are not easy to guess, but that you can remember. If a password is too complicated to remember, it isn’t helpful. You can create strong passwords by:

  • Using a short sentence – if there are no maximum character limitations on the website, removing spaces between words in the sentence (e.g., autumnIsbeautiful)
  • Intentionally misspell a word (e.g., spekTakulaR)
  • Adding numbers to increase the length of a word  (e.g., WeBsite335)

Make sure your password recovery options on the websites you use are up-to-date and secure. Keep your email address updated on these sites so that you can receive emails if you need to reset your password. Often, there is also a security question to help verify your identity. If you’re able to create your own question, try to make up a question with an answer that only you would know. And then make the answer unique by misspelling or mixing in alpha and numeric characters.

If you’ve been wondering how you’ll remember all these unique passwords - you can write them down in a notebook or store them in a file on your computer. Just don’t leave them in plain sight, and definitely don’t label your notebook or computer file as “passwords”.

Karen Ebidia is the Web Editor at the Ontario Real Estate Association.

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