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Sarah Young's Cyber Crime Column 01/11/2016 - passwords

Almost every day I read something in the news or on social media about the importance of strong passwords. There are loads of sources out there, offering their own ideas for forming a strong password and being able to remember them without writing them down.

I have to admit, that before I became Cyber Crime Prevention Officer for Wiltshire Police, I too failed to fully understand the importance of having a strong password and exactly what a ‘strong password’ actually meant. The topic seems so minor, yet it is a vital defence in keeping our digital and real worlds safe and one that continues to be ignored by individuals, businesses and large organisations alike. 

It’s our private, sensitive and financial details that criminals crave. We all need to take personal responsibility to understand our online activity leaves us just as vulnerable as being out there on the streets.

Just logging on at the start of my working day, I have multiple passwords to put in to get into various systems. They’re all different lengths, they all expire at different times and then when I log off from work I’ve got another bunch to remember for my personal devices, email and so on. The list seems endless and it is understandable why people get caught out trying to keep things simple. 

The best way I have found to raise awareness amongst people of all generations, is to compare digital activity to real life activity. 

For example you wouldn’t use the same key to unlock every door you use would you? Sure, it may be more convenient and easier to have one key for everything but what if you lost that key or someone stole it? 

Put simply, your house, your car, your safe, your garage, your shed and so on would all be vulnerable to intruders. It’s the same principle for passwords; using the same password for your email, your social media, your online banking etc. leaves you vulnerable to theft of your money, your personal information and your identity. The impacts can be devastating and it can take a long time and a lot of effort to sort out. 

Your passwords are there to provide you with security and, just as you want them all to be different; you want them to be difficult to guess too. ‘Easy to crack’ passwords can take a criminal a matter of seconds to gain access via information already known about you or by using simple computer software. It’s like leaving your house with the window slightly ajar, yes there's a bit of an obstacle in place but it’s not a difficult one to overcome for those that want to get in. 

There are lots of things you can do to help:
• One password for each online account 
• Use three random words to make your password
• Use a minimum of 8 characters – no more than two of the same. Space permitting.
• Use a combination of UPPER and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
• Avoid using personal information in your passwords – such as birthdays, nicknames, pets, children’s names etc.
• Don’t write your passwords down, share them with others or store them in mobile devices
• Never disclose passwords or PINs over the phone. Banks and police will never ask you to do this.

Taking simple precautions will help to ensure that your digital doors and windows stay secure and potential intruders are kept at bay. For more advice on staying safe online follow @CyberBeeWiseWP on Twitter or like our Facebook page CyberBee WiseWilts.

PC Sarah Young is the Cyber Crime Prevention Officer for Wiltshire Police. She’s been with the Force for 13 years and works as part of the Crime Prevention Team. Sarah is passionate about helping people stay safe online.

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