How strong is my password? 9 tips to help keep you safe

In a world where many transactions are done digitally, creating a strong password can help keep your online accounts and personal information secure. 

Use this guide to learn how to create a strong password—and keep it secure in the cyber world. 

Key takeaways

  • Because so much personal data is online, it’s important to maintain strong passwords to help keep information secure.
  • There are a few ways to create a strong password, like using a mix of characters and cases. 
  • Setting up multifactor authentication is another way to add a layer of security.
  • After choosing a strong password, you can take precautions to help keep it protected from unauthorized users. 

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The importance of strong passwords

Whether you’re shopping online, signing into a social media profile or making an online bank transaction, you likely use passwords to access accounts and platforms. A strong password is an important way to help keep unauthorized users from accessing your personal information.

There’s no shortage of ways hackers may try to access accounts, including using personally identifiable information. That’s why keeping your profiles private with secure passwords can help prevent these types of attacks. Identity theft is also a threat when an unauthorized user gets hold of sensitive information. 

9 tips to create a strong password

A strong password can help protect you from fraud. But what is a strong password? Check out these tips below from sources like the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

1. Keep it long

Shorter passwords may be easier to remember, but they usually aren’t as secure as longer ones. Consider making passwords at least 16 characters long and avoid using full words. 

2. Use a mix of characters

To make a password stronger, be sure to include a combination of unrelated uppercase and lowercase letters, along with numbers and special characters.

3. Make it memorable—but only for you

While a secure password may seem difficult to memorize, it’s possible to make it strong and easy to remember. For example, write a sentence that’s personal to you, and use the first letter of each word—along with any numbers and special characters—to create your own memorable password.

  • Example: “I have 2 brothers and 1 sister. Their names are Derek, Tim and Leslie.” This becomes “Ih2b&1s.TnaDT&L.” This can be easier to remember than picking random characters and is usually more secure than simply using the names as a password.

4. Avoid using easy-to-identify phrases

Even though it may be easier to remember a password that includes personal information, it’s best to stick to phrases that can’t be guessed by hackers. You may want to steer clear of passwords that include the following:

  • Names of pets, children or partners
  • Personal information like your phone number, address or email
  • Keyboard sequences like “qwerty” or “asdf”

5. Use different passwords

Once you create a strong password, it might be tempting to reuse it for all your accounts. If hackers get your password from another account, you could end up giving them access to your bank account or other personal information. Generally, it’s best to keep your passwords for financial accounts separate from anything you use for email or social media.

When people are required to change their password frequently, they often choose weaker passwords or just change an old password slightly. Hackers know this, so if your system requires regular password updates, try to choose something totally new—and strong—when it’s time to change.

6. Consider a password manager

If you’re not a password expert, it might be a good idea to explore password management apps. There are a number of tools that can help you create stronger passwords, store them and even tell you how strong or weak your passwords may be.

7. Set up multifactor authentication

You can help keep your information safe by using two-factor or multifactor authentication. This adds another level of security by requiring a second piece of information in addition to your password. 

These secondary factors could be a security question, a code sent to your phone, your fingerprint or facial recognition. Capital One offers mobile app verification to add an extra layer of security to your Capital One account.

8. Be mindful of security question answers

When you’re setting up security questions, try not to go for an answer that can easily be found, like your mother’s maiden name or other information that’s available on social media. It’s usually best to treat security questions like strong passwords.

9. Try a password generator

You can use a generator or an app to create a master password that protects all your accounts. Some generators let you set certain criteria—like keeping it to a certain length—for a customized but secure password.

How to protect your password

Once you have a good password, there are multiple ways you can help protect it and your online information, according to CISA and the FTC. Here are some of them:

  • Don’t write down your passwords and leave them in an accessible place.
  • Consider using trustworthy online tools to check the strength of your existing passwords.
  • Keep your passwords private from others.
  • If you’re using a public computer, be sure to sign out of any programs you used—and avoid using a public computer to access sensitive information or accounts.
  • Be cautious of phishing attacks, like a scammer emailing and requesting your password.
  • Verify the identity of anyone reaching out and saying they’re from a legitimate company.
  • Use antivirus software that can detect and sometimes remove harmful software—often referred to as malware.
  • Install a firewall that can help prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to information on your computer through the internet.
  • Update your operating system, internet browsers, apps and security software to the current versions.
  • Monitor your accounts and immediately address suspicious activity.
  • Avoid opening email attachments or links from sources that don’t seem legitimate.

Password strength in a nutshell

The internet can be a convenient way to make purchases, stay in touch with family and friends, and keep track of your finances. But because personal information is often stored digitally, it’s important to choose strong passwords that can help keep your data secure. 

Once you have your secure passwords, read about some other tips to protect yourself from identity theft.

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