Is my password secure? How to improve your digital security

Whether it’s your mother's maiden name, your treasured first pet, or a string of random numbers, here’s how to improve your password security.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 10:00 am

According to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)’s 2019 survey, 23.2 million people who had their online accounts breached worldwide used 123456 as their password.

Sequential or common passwords like these leave you vulnerable to attack, yet they are still widely used for important account security, including banking, social media, and so on.

Here’s how secure your passwords are, and how you can plug any gaps in your digital security.

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Protect yourself online by improving the security of your passwords. Photo: Towfiqu Narnhuiya / Canva Pro. Zhufifeng / Canvo Pro / Getty Images. ShotShare / Canva Pro / Getty Images.

Why do I need a secure password?

So much of our lives is online now, from our finances with digital bank accounts to our relationships through social media. Just as you would keep a lock on the front door of your home, your digital world needs to be similarly protected.

The NCSC received 2.3 million reports of cyber attacks in the first four months of the pandemic, signs of a dramatic increase in hacking and account breaches during lockdown. Cyber criminals know that more people are working, shopping, and even socialising from home nowadays, meaning there are more opportunities to access private accounts.

How secure is my password?

The number one thing you need to remember with online passwords is that they need to be unpredictable. If it’s a word, number, or phrase that is common knowledge about you or that could apply to anyone, it could easily be guessed by someone trying to gain access to your account.

Steer clear from common phrases like ‘password’, which was used to breach 3.6 million accounts in 2019.

Even when it comes to personal information, if someone really wants to log into your bank account or social media, certain pieces of information aren’t hard to find in the golden age of the internet. For example, names of relatives, birthdays, and anniversaries should all be off limits.

If your password contains any of those pieces of information, it’s likely not very secure. You can also check the security of your existing passwords for yourself using online tools like howsecureismypassword.io or similar.

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How do I create a secure password?

The best way to create an unpredictable and therefore secure password is to make it as random as possible. Choose three unrelated words and link them together to form a password, with random numbers in between.

It’s also a good idea to mix up the types of characters you’re using. Capitalise different letters, include punctuation marks, and don’t always put numbers of punctuation at the end of your passwords.

Make sure to have different passwords for different accounts, even if it’s just changing small details. If you don’t, you run the risk of one password giving someone access to dozens of different aspects of your life.

Once again, there are tools you can use to help you. If you use Google Chrome for browsing the internet, Google will often automatically suggest strong passwords for you and save them to your Google account so you don’t forget them.

Of course, you then just need to make absolutely sure that your Google account or whatever other service you use to save passwords has an especially good password. Otherwise, if someone gets in there, they have all your passwords.