Make it Harder to Crack Your PIN and Password!

By on Jan 29, 2015

Every day there seems to be a new story or article about cyber criminals and hackers stealing identities and revealing sensitive information. These hackers wreak havoc on individuals’ credit history and lives by disclosing their private information. While hackers have become more sophisticated in the tactics they use to steal information, a report from SplashData notes that they still prefer the easy route.

Your personal passwords and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) may not be as clever or nearly as secure as you thought. Following is information on how to create a more secure login.

This month, SplashData published its list of the worst passwords of 2014. These were gathered from files of stolen passwords that hackers had posted online. Topping the list were “123456,” “password,” and “12345.” Some other combinations in the top 25 of the worst passwords for the year also included “letmein,” “dragon,” and “football.”

Nick Berry, the founder of technology consulting firm Data Genetics, stated that a majority of people use the same passwords and PINs. Out of 3.4 million four-digit passwords that Berry analyzed, 11% were “1234,” followed by “1111” (6%) and “0000” (2%).

Creating unique and hard to break passwords is more important today than ever. This is especially true for access to sensitive information such as online banking, online investments, and medical information.

Tips to strengthen your codes and passwords

  • Avoid using your birth date/birth year. In the event your license is stolen along with your bankcard, it will be easier to figure out your PIN. Berry’s analysis also reveals that all possible 19XX combinations were among the top 20% most-common PINs.
  • Create different passwords for different accounts. You are better off having a separate and unique password for your most sensitive online accounts — email, bank, and credit card websites, for example. A hacker cracking one account will not be able to expose all of your personal information.
  • SplashData suggests making sure your data is encrypted on all devices. Also, you should not leave password lists in unsecured documents or on sticky notes.
  • Make sure your passwords are complex. They should have at least eight or more characters that consist of a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • When speaking with Yahoo! Finance, Berry also noted that typical PIN combinations tend to use numbers that are close together, either in value or on the keypad. Do not choose a mix such as 45 or 12, or picking numbers in a straight line (like “2580”), Berry says. Instead, try to pick numbers far away from each other.
  • Use Two-Factor Authentication whenever possible. This process adds an additional layer of security beyond the User ID and password. For example, my bank sends a code via text to my cell phone that I then must enter on the website within a few minutes for access. Some websites are beginning to add this process to enhance their security. For example, Gmail now allows you to create a two-factor authentication process when logging into your account. It adds a little more time to the process but greatly enhances your security.

Warning signs

  • Make sure you review bank and credit card statements on a regular basis. This can help you catch discrepancies early, potentially minimizing the damage of a cracked PIN or password.
  • Although hackers and identity thieves are getting more sophisticated in their approach, old-school tricks are still common. These can include planting card skimmers and cameras on public ATMs, for example. To prevent getting your PIN “skimmed,” cover the keypad from view while entering in your ATM PIN and pay attention to anything that might seem “weird” with the machine itself.
  • You get three free credit reports a year. Use them. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are all required to provide consumers a free credit report annually. This allows you to check the history of accounts opened in your name. Being proactive about managing your credit history will help you avoid unpleasant surprises the next time a bank or other entity runs a credit check.

The number of data breaches and security incidences in 2015 will likely increase. Taking appropriate steps to make sure your online transactions are as secure as possible is well worth a little bit of effort. Using common sense and enhancing your PINs and passwords may not guarantee your identity is not stolen, but it is sure to make it less likely.

What tips do you use to create strong passwords?

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