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A friendly reminder: Make your password less hacker-friendly

Consumer Reports News: January 29, 2010 05:00 PM

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Creating and remembering online passwords can be a nuisance. In a recent Consumer Reports survey, Americans rated passwords and PINs a 6.1 on the annoyance scale, with 10.0 being most annoying. (For some reason, women found them more annoying than men by a large margin.) Here at our Yonkers, NY headquarters, the IT department reports that eighty percent of their work involves resetting forgotten or expired passwords.

That’s no excuse, however, for creating a feeble one. Passwords are security tools after all, used to protect everything from the social data on your Facebook page to the money in your bank account. If you’re one of the many people who list “123456”, “password”, or any other cipher so simple it could probably be hacked by a chimpanzee, consider this your intervention.

Dean Gallea, a senior program leader here at Consumer Reports, suggests some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Include caps, numbers and/or symbols.
  • Make it at least 6 characters.
  • Don't use your name, street, or phone number.
  • Don't use common names or words.
  • Remember it. One trick is to think of a phrase you won't forget, then gussy it up. For example, "I pledge allegiance to the flag" could be shortened to "ipattf". Then throw in some numbers and symbols.

Write the passwords down if you have to, but don’t keep the list near the computer or in your wallet. Gallea offers this tip for writing them: Say your password is “5Consumer#9”. Write it as “5C…r#9”. You’ll remember the word “Consumer” and if you need to update your password (recommended for personal use and often required on office computers) you can simply change the numbers and/or symbols.

—Nick K. Mandle

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