Think about a typical day for you. After brewing a fresh cup of coffee, you might scroll through Facebook and Instagram, check your work email and throw a few sing-a-long YouTube videos on for your kids as you all get ready for the day. Once you arrive at work, you log onto your computer, listen to a few voicemails and before you know it, it’s time for lunch. The café down the street has just added mobile payments, so you quickly grab a sandwich and hurry back to the office. On your drive home from work, you stream your favorite playlist from your phone and, pulling into your driveway, switch it to your home speaker system with a swipe in your music app. After dinner, you pay your bills online and watch a movie on your smart TV before heading to bed.
Now, consider this: between your social media networks, email and voicemail logins, mobile payment app and streaming services, it would take ten passwords to get through this typical day. That’s a lot of unique passwords to remember, but chances are, at least a few of these passwords are similar variations of each other, if not the exact same password.
Enough has been said about password security best practices to know that using the same password across multiple accounts is inadvisable, but it’s a habit many people fall into. And unfortunately, this habit can lead to a host of problems including but not limited to loss of personal data, account fraud and identity theft. Using a variety of tools and techniques, cyber criminals can discover not only your current password for a single account but also predict future ones for multiple accounts, especially if your passwords feature common elements like your pets’ names, birthdays and anniversaries, past addresses and phone numbers, or other information that can be found in public records or on social media.
More and more password protected sites are introducing an indicator bar to illustrate password strength as you type it, but by the time it turns green, you may have a string of letters, numbers and special characters that is nearly impossible to commit to memory. That’s where a password vault comes in.
A password vault, also referred to as a password manager, is a software program that securely stores passwords in an encrypted database and requires a single password to gain access. Rather than having to memorize dozens of logins, you can store all of the username and password combinations you use online in one place. Just be sure to remember the password needed to access it!
Once alleviated from having to commit passwords to memory, you may be more inclined to create complex passwords that are tougher for hackers to crack, better protecting personal information and finances.
Your password vault need not be reserved for passwords alone. Many websites and apps require a series of security questions and answers to verify your identity. Falling into the same bad habits of using repetitive and easily discoverable information can leave your accounts just as vulnerable as they were with weak passwords. Security experts recommend not only storing these questions and answers alongside their corresponding passwords in your vault, but they also suggest getting creative.
For example, take a common security question like, “What was the name of the high school you attended?” Rather than supplying the name of your high school, which is potentially discoverable in public record or on your social media accounts, consider entering a wrong or misspelled answer, or make one up altogether. Providing information that doesn’t logically correspond can help further secure your accounts by taking away the pattern and predictability.
You may have noticed password vault features on your own mobile device, namely that when you visit your favorite websites and apps, your usernames and passwords – sometimes even lengthy web forms – are automatically populated for you. There are independent password vault providers out there should you want to download software of your own choosing. These other vaults may offer added features like password strength indicators, sharing capabilities and more, but be aware that some also come with price tags.
The first step in protecting personal information online is to improve your password security. If you decide to use a password vault, be sure to create a secure password that is strong and memorable to gain access. For more cyber security tips as we move through Cyber Security Awareness Month, subscribe to the FutureTrack Blog.