A Brief Guide to Secure Passwords and Logins in 2021
The cybersecurity threat landscape has become increasingly sophisticated, and in line with this, the potential to have your accounts hacked has risen exponentially.
While the security tools we use to keep our logins and accounts safe in 2021 have risen to meet the new challenges, our basic digital hygiene practices are still lacking. For example, PCMag recently reported on the 2020s most common passwords. In a corpus of 275,699,516 passwords, researchers found that only 44 percent were truly unique, and the remainder were variations of the most common passwords in use.
Of those passwords, the top offenders included highly insecure choices such as ‘qwerty’, ‘password’, ‘password123’, and even ‘123456’ and ‘1234’. Given the level of digital threat, these kinds of poor security protocols are akin to leaving the house with the key in the front door.
With that in mind, here’s our brief guide to secure passwords and logins in 2021 and beyond:
Choose a long and complicated password
Even though security experts have been telling us to do this for years now, the list of the most common passwords proves that we haven’t followed that advice. Each password you choose should:
- Contain at least 12 characters
- Contain a mix of upper and lower-case letters
- Feature non-consecutive numerals
- Contain several special characters such as &^(#!
- Not be repeated across any other sites or accounts
- Never contain personally-identifying information
Some evidence suggests that complexity is more important than length, so if you prefer shorter passwords, they are not inherently less secure than longer ones so long as they are dense and random with a mix of the above features.
Other research suggests the opposite. The FBI, for instance, recently recommended long passphrases over complexity.
Use privacy software
Using a VPN service whenever you’re online is one of the easiest ways to keep your private login data as it should be: private. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, have long been appreciated for their privacy potential, but they also perform an important security function too.
When you browse on the internet or conduct any online activity with your VPN connection, you do so on a private network, which means that would-be attackers cannot readily detect your activity. In addition, the VPN service encrypts your data transmissions, so even if you did inadvertently give a hacker access, they can’t view the information you’re entering online as it is encrypted and unreadable.
Get a password manager and use it for all your accounts
Given the requirement for long and complex passwords, and the fact that the average internet user has around 40 or so accounts, it’s extremely tricky to remember passwords for each account. That’s where a good password manager comes in.
Password managers such as LastPass and psono.com act like a digital vault and securely store all your login and account details. You simply log in with a single long password or passphrase, and then while you’re online, the manager will automatically log you into your accounts when you open a site you hold an account with. It will also help you generate the kind of complicated passwords you need.
Consider a security key
A security key is a piece of physical hardware that allows you to open your accounts only when it is attached to your device. These small tools look much like a USB stick and can be used with iPhone and Android handheld devices and PCs and Macs.
These keys pair to authenticator apps, so you can still gain access if you do lose the physical key.
Staying safe and secure in 2021 and beyond is a matter of following standard digital hygiene practices and investing in the right software for the task.