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Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Q. I read weekly about private email and company data bases being hacked and the importance of strong passwords and security. What advice might BBB provide?

A. The average person has dozens of online accounts banks, credit cards, shopping sites, doctors, utilities, content providers, cloud storage, and much more. How to remember all those passwords? Most people take a dangerous shortcut and use the same one over and over again. Or worse, they use something simple like "123456" (the most common password) or even the word "password" (the second most common). This makes it easy for a hacker to steal your data or even your identity.

Don't do it!

Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance offer these tips for make your passwords safer.

Make passwords long and strong. Don't use a single word; try a phrase or a jumble of words that only means something to you. Mix upper and lower case letters, add numbers in random places, and add a symbol. Don't create passwords based on personal information that can be easily accessed or guessed, such as your mother's maiden name or your dog's name.

Use unique passwords for every account. Don't use the same password for every account, even though it may be convenient and easier to remember.

Secure your passwords. Keep a written list of passwords in a safe place, not on or near your computer or smart phone. Consider sharing the location of your passwords with one trusted individual, in case of emergency. Never share your passwords with friends, and especially not with someone who contacts you (scammers often pose as a bank, IRS agent, etc.).

Password-protect your devices. Make sure your smart phone, lap top and tablet have "long and strong" passwords to access the home screen. Adjust the settings so the devices switch to lock mode after a minute or two without input.

Change your passwords regularly. Yes, it's a pain to change and then remember all your passwords, but it's one of the best ways to keep your private information safe. Consider doing so every six months in April (Digital Spring Cleaning) and October (National Cyber Security Awareness Month). Or celebrate World Password Day (May 5) by upping your password game!

For more information:

  •  Check out some fun videos at World Password Day (passwordday.org)
  •  For more ways to stay safe online, go to the National Cyber Security Alliance (staysafeonline.org)
  •  Zap the world's worst passwords with Password Blaster (passwordblaster.com)

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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