A few recent articles have revealed (again) that most people don’t take their online security seriously. Maybe a better way of saying this is that most people don’t seem to connect the dots between their passwords (online logins) and how they help keep their personal data secure. At a time when everyone is talking about identity theft protection and personal data privacy, a huge number of Internet users still use very weak passwords (anything that is predictable or can be easily guessed) or repeat the same password in multiple accounts.

The purpose of passwords is to keep others ‘out’. By using predictable passwords, you’re making it easier for someone to get ‘in’. That doesn’t mean that someone will get in, or even that someone will try to get in, but you’ve made it easier for him. It’s worthwhile identifying two basic categories of wrongdoers: those we know and those we don’t know. When thinking about security, most people think about a threat that they can imagine. When I was about 10 years old, I had a safe in which I kept my allowance and a few small prized possessions (actually, it was a piggy bank with a very simple combination lock). My only concern at the time was to keep my sister out. I had no concept of other threats and so my security system focused on the threat I could picture in my mind. (Confident that she would never be able to guess it, I probably used something like my birth date as the combination!) With online logins and passwords – when thinking about threats at all – the picture of bad guys for most people is someone trying to access their account just as they themselves would: sitting at a computer and trying combinations of numbers and letters. That’s not always the case.

Most people are generally trusting and don’t think that their friends and family would try to access their online accounts: maybe they wouldn’t, but relationships do change and people are curious, so why open yourself to the risk!? In general, it’s because of the people who know us that we shouldn’t choose passwords tied to our children’s or pets’ names, birthdays, and other personal and family information that may be known by others. These people know your details and would probably start trying to get into your account with this info.

As for the other group – the guys who are usually dressed in black in the movies – people think that really bad guys aren’t interested in their accounts. But these are the bad guys that we all need to protect ourselves against. They don’t care who you are, they just want data – your personal data! These are the bad guys who use brute computing force to access, or hack, accounts. They don’t personally go from one account to the next – patiently trying to get into a specific person’s accounts. They have powerful computers that try millions of combinations of logins and passwords every hour all over the World Wide Web. And, here’s where strong passwords with combinations of numbers, letters (upper and lower case) and special characters come into play. Each little twist to a password makes it that much harder to crack. It doesn’t matter whether you think the info in your email account is valuable, someone out there does. He probably doesn’t want to read your email – but your login and password are $valuable$. Valid logins and passwords are worth more on the black market today than a valid credit card number!

It bears repeating: the purpose of passwords is to keep others out! Make sure you use passwords that will keep others out.