Creating a hard password is a good way to protect yourself online.

Think about all the online accounts you have that include your personal or financial data. Whether it’s your favorite streaming service, an online store account, or a credit card site, each of these places include information that you want to keep private. The entrances to these places are the passwords you use. Your passwords carry significant value to cybercriminals, which is why they’re constantly trying to figure them out. Here are seven tips to protect your passwords and keep your accounts safe and secure.

1. Create unique “tough to crack” passwords

• Avoid words containing personal information

Names of your pets or family members, and numbers like addresses, phone numbers, or birthdays might be publicly accessible from forms you’ve filled out or posts you’ve made on social media. These are easy targets for hackers.

• Incorporate symbols and numbers

Combine special characters with numbers and both upper and lowercase letters to ramp up the complexity of your password.

• Create a hard password using a secret code from a favorite phrase

Think of a line of move dialogue, a song lyric, or a quote you like and convert it into a password, using the first letter from each word and also substituting some of the letters with numbers or special characters. For example, you could take the movie quote, “Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy night” and make the password, “Fy$BiG2b@bN.”

• Password length – the longer the better

The longer your password, the harder it’ll be to crack. Good passwords are at least eight characters long, but stronger passwords use ten or more characters.

2. Use different passwords for different accounts

If you use the same password for multiple accounts and hackers are able to acquire your password, they’ll be able to access all those accounts.

3. Secure hard copies to keep your passwords safe

If you create a document containing a list of all your passwords, either handwrite it or save it on a computer not connected to the outside world and keep the hard copy in a safe or locked cabinet.

4. Change passwords regularly

A good rule of thumb is to change passwords for accounts you access regularly at least once a quarter. Mark your calendar so you’ll know when it’s time to make changes.

5. Consider alternatives to creating your own passwords

There are other password protection options available if you prefer not to have to come up with your own passwords. Here are two:

• Use a password manager

A password manager, or password vault, is a software application that generates unique, hard passwords and fills them in for you on your selected accounts. There are many password manager programs available, but here are a few examples: 1password, LastPass, Dashlane.

• If available, use a “Bio” method

Many devices give you the option of using your fingerprint or face ID to log you in, and nothing is more unique than that.

6. Share passwords only with people you trust (and establish ground rules)

Think of your password like your social security number. Who would you feel comfortable sharing that with?

If you do share your password, consider doing it via a password manager with “limited” rights to keep the password safe – the password will remain encrypted and no one else will be able to see the actual password text.

Before sharing passwords, make sure you and the people you’re going to share them with are on the same page about digital privacy and any further sharing.

If you’re planning to share your password with someone else so they can gain access to your streaming service account, like Netflix, Disney+, or Amazon Prime, first read the terms of service you agreed to and make sure you’re not breaking any rules. Plus, be aware that sharing passwords may put your own viewing access at risk since some services limit the number of devices and simultaneous streams. And remember: all streaming services know when unauthorized password sharing occurs. They can tell, for example, when users sign in to the same account from different IP addresses or locations and also what types of devices are being used.

7. Be wary of typing passwords on devices or networks you don’t control

Keep in mind that when you enter your password on another person’s computer, it could be stored without your knowledge.

When using devices on public Wi-Fi, make sure you’re using a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure safe transmission of data. If you don’t have a VPN for these situations, avoid visiting websites that require you to log into your account. Your unencrypted data is vulnerable in unsecured public networks and could be intercepted by a nearby hacker.

Many services today employ two-factor authentication, requiring two sources to allow access to their sites: a password and another trusted source, such as a mobile phone number. This is a good thing – even if a hacker discovers your password, they won’t have access to your other source. If you use one of these services, make sure to add an additional (third) backup source to the account, such as a second phone number or an email address so if, say, your phone gets lost, you’ll still be able to access the service.

Bottom line: Create strong and different passwords for each of your accounts, protect your passwords like you would your social security number, and avoid sharing passwords. If you are planning to share a password for an account, only share it with a trusted source and review the service agreement first to make sure you won’t be breaking it.

Even if you keep your passwords and devices secure, the various companies you have accounts with could still be breached. Always prepare for the worst and take every precaution.

Interested in learning more?

See our infographic, “Four Risks of Password Sharing”.

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