MADISON, Wis. (11/26/07)--Don’t even think
about shopping online this holiday season until you’re sure you have a strong password. Without it, you unwittingly leave yourself open to identity theft, says the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Center for Personal Finance. If you’re typical of many computer users, you have a weak password--one that’s easy for hackers to crack. One example is any word in the dictionary; con artists have written software programs that search every word in the dictionary to uncover the key that can open your files. Another no-no is using personal information, such as birthdays or names of family members and pets. And using consecutive keys on the keyboard, such as qwerty, is a gift that keeps on giving for identity thieves. The key to a strong password, according to Microsoft, is to use a variety of characters and make it both random and lengthy. The greater the variety, the better:
* Combine letters, numbers and symbols. Each character you add increases your protection from fraud. A password without symbols needs to be considerably longer to have the same degree of protection as an eight-character password with symbols. * Randomly capitalize some letters. Sprinkle them throughout your password. * Stray from typical symbols. Don’t forget about punctuation marks, slashes, dashes and brackets--symbols not on the upper row of your keyboard. * Use a phrase or sentence to help you remember. Here’s one example, “My #1 dog is a cross between Boxer/Lab,” becomes the password “m#1diacbB/L.” Remember this phrase and you won’t forget this seemingly random combination of letters, numbers and symbols. * Avoid easy-to-guess passwords. This includes your login name, sequences (123456789), or look-alike characters (M@ddie).
Finally, take time to check the strength of your password. Use Microsoft’s online tool at Microsoft.com
(search “password checker”) to see how your password stacks up. For more information, read, “Stay Safe When Shopping Online” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.