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It’s best to pick a complex password

By Staff | Feb 5, 2010

What’s your password?

No, don’t tell. It’s suppose to be a secret.

You need a password for just about everything these days including voice mail, ATMs, and anything on the internet. I have so many passwords that there’s no way I can remember them all so I wrote them down in a handy little notebook. I know security experts say you should never do that in case someone would get ahold of that little notebook they could steal my life away. But who can remember all that in amongst all the other very important information rattling around in my brain like the top secret family recipe for scotcheroos or the combination to my high school locker.

Okay, so I admit I have to purge some of that out since there’s really no need for much of it after all these years. My brain is full of passwords. It’s gotten to be so much that I use the same password for just about every Website I visit. It’s just easier that way. But taking the easy way out could potentially lead to trouble.

Experts at technology security firms say that the most popular online password people decide to use is 123456. In this case, most say, you might as well change it to hackme.

Despite all the reports of internet security breaches that have exposed those crafty hackers over the years, many people react to the break-ins with a shrug. A new study revealed that one out of five Web users still use the simple digital equivalent of a key under the doorstep. People still tend to use very simple passwords like abc123 or iloveyou to protect their data.

Why do people display such indifference to their password? Why are we tempted to pick the easy-to-guess passwords, despite all the warnings? After all, an Internet password is supposed to protect some of a person’s most valuable information.

Experts say it’s because people are simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of things we have to remember in this digital age. Nowadays we have to keep probably 10 times as many passwords in our heads as we did 10 years ago. It’s just too hard to keep track of it all so we take the easy way out with 123456.

I recently came across a list of the most common 30 or so passwords as released by one of the top companies that makes software for users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The top three are variations on the number sequence I’ve already mentioned and number four on the list is “password.” Now that’s just downright lazy. “Princess” comes in at the sixth most popular and “nicole” as number 11 on the list. I suppose people with extremely common names shouldn’t use them as their password. Same goes for names such as Daniel, Jessica, Michael, Ashley, Michelle, and Anthony, all of which made the top 30 list of common passwords.

Other passwords making the list are monkey, tigger, sunshine, chocolate, angel, friends and soccer. So using your favorite hobby, nickname, cartoon character or snack is not such a great idea either.

You might think you’re safe if your top-secret password didn’t show up on this list of common passwords, but if you consider that savvy hackers can fire off thousands of password guesses per minute, you might want to consider changing your password if it even resembles one of these or any other common term.

The key is that in our overcrowded brains it’s well worth the extra effort to get more creative than using “password” as your top-secret password in order to protect your personal information.

Now if I can just remember to purge that locker combination that I memorized in 1989, I can make a little extra room in my brain for a more complicated Internet password.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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