Playing "password" must be taken seriously

In the 1960s, many Americans tuned into the game show “Password,” where contestants were paired with celebrities to guess words from verbal clues. While that word, “password,” might have once brought to mind giddy TV contestants playing for cash, we’re much more likely to think about passwords nowadays in the context of online security. 

And why wouldn’t we? Passwords are required across the internet to pay bills, log in to social media, subscribe to streaming services and more. We’ve become quite familiar with the need to create usernames and passwords to access these accounts, and, unlike the old game show, our modern-day passwords aren’t ones we want people easily guessing. 

To protect yourself, the challenge is to create complex passwords that keep your personal information protected. Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends the following password-creation tips to stay safe online.

Think of your passwords as walls. A password or a passphrase should be considered a wall between free access to your personal information and the world. The stronger the wall, the more difficult it is for others to break down. The more walls, the more difficult it is to access the information.  

Avoid easy passwords. An example of a weak password is easy-to-guess information anyone can find on social media sites or through a phishing email or text. A strong password has at least 12 to 14 characters mixed with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. 

Commonly used passwords are your pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, the town you grew up in, your birthday, your anniversary, etc. Surprisingly, the answers to these common passwords can typically be found online. Even if you don’t consider yourself an active social media user or the internet, your information is on one forum or another. Even for passwords that require numbers and letters, some people stick to simple patterns like 0000, 1111, 1234, etc., and you should not be so predictable. Never use the same password for multiple accounts, especially for the most sensitive ones, such as bank accounts, credit cards, legal or tax records or medically-related files. 

Make them creative. Need more creative ideas for different passwords? Can you use song lyrics? Not only is it impossible for hackers to guess what song you are using, it’s even harder for them to guess which lyrics you’re using.

Use a “passphrase.” Instead of using a single word, use a passphrase. Your phrase should be around 20 characters long and include random words, numbers and symbols. Think of something that you will be able to remember, but others need help to come close to guessing, such as PurpleMilk#367JeepDog$. 

Use multiple passwords. Using different passwords for different accounts is also important. While it may be easier to remember one password for every account, it’s much easier for hackers to break down one wall rather than multiple walls. If hackers can figure out one password, even if it’s to something harmless like your Instagram account, they know the password to every account you own. This includes websites you shop online at, banking accounts, health insurance accounts, email accounts–you name it. 

Use multi-factor authentication. When it’s available and supported by accounts, use two-factor authentication. This requires both your password and additional information upon logging in. The second piece is generally a code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app or token. This will protect your account even if your password is compromised. Many devices include fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock them, which helps protect any apps on the device if it becomes lost or stolen. 

Consider a password manager. A written list works, but if you’re worried about losing it, type up an electronic list and label it as something other than “PASSWORDS.” Keep the list updated and organized as well as secretive. Avoid keeping the list on the device, as it will make it easier for the thief to access the apps and personal data. 

You can use a reputable password manager app to store your information. These easy-to-access apps store all your password information and security question answers in case you ever need to remember. However, don’t forget to use a strong password to secure the information within your password manager. 

Select security questions only you know the answer to. Many security questions ask for answers to information available in public records or online, like your ZIP code, mother’s maiden name, and birthplace. That is information a motivated attacker can easily obtain. Don’t use questions with a limited number of responses that attackers can easily guess, like the color of your first car.

While the game show is in the rearview mirror, passwords are still giving us reason to tune in when it comes to safety. Having an effective password or passphrase keeps your personal information secure on the internet and keeps you winning at the password game.

Roseann Freitas is public relations and communications manager for the Better Business Bureau Great West and Pacific Region.