Managing an endless stream of passwords is now a fact of modern life. It’s easy to get complacent and oh so tempting to keep using the same one on repeat. But experts warn that strong passwords are key to keeping your personal information safe. It’s time to commit to creating secure passwords for all of your online accounts—and devices. Here’s how:

Create passwords with these three things in common

Although some sites have a “strength meter” of some kind—that turns from red to green, for example, to help keep you in check—many don’t. It’s up to you to create strong passwords. Good passwords:

  • Are lengthy; a password with at least 10 to 12 characters is best.
  • Avoid names, places, and dictionary words.
  • Use a random mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters along with numbers and symbols.

Of course, creating strong passwords is one thing, remembering them is another. Read on for ideas on how to manage and remember your secure passwords.

Try turning a sentence or phrase into a password

Create a sentence or phrase you can remember. Then, keeping in mind the tips from above, combine letters, numbers, and symbols to form the password. For example:

I used to live in Wisconsin= iu$ed2l!vNW!
Summer rain clouds = suM3rra!nclwdZ

For sites that don’t allow the use of symbols, get creative with punctuation and capitalization. Be sure you don’t simply replace letters with numbers, as many code-breaking software programs scan for those simple tricks. And don’t use family names, birthdays, anniversaries, or common phrases from literature. The more nonsensical it appears to others, the better.

Double an easier password

Using a strong, short password and doubling it (without adding a space) will increase its strength without giving you more to remember. As long as you remember you doubled it, that is.

Keep track of multiple passwords by using a “master key”

Once you have single, difficult-to-crack password, use it as a “master key,” with simple modifications for each of your accounts. Some people like to make a different master key for each account category, like banking, social media, and shopping, for example. This way you only have three or four passwords to remember, with minimal modifications.

Give your memory a fighting chance

If you want to harness the power of a memorization method backed by science, apply the PAO (Person-Action-Object) method to your password creation. With this method, you visualize a person, an action, and an object, then create a story for those images. The more unusual, the better. For example:

Oprah: person
Cooking: action
Spaceship: object

Your story is “Oprah cooking in a spaceship”—easy to visualize and remember. Once you have that story down, create a password using the tips from above, like OPcK!ngs8shIp.

Don’t reuse the same password

Tempting as it is, using the same password for all your devices and accounts is the virtual equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. If one of the sites you frequent experiences a data breach, your information could be compromised everywhere you used the same password

Sign up for a password management service

Another way to keep track of your passwords is to sign up for a password management service. These services encrypt and store your passwords for you and even generate random new passwords when needed—for a fee.

You generally will need to remember a single master password that allows you to then access your stored information. The best password management services integrate with your browser or mobile device. If you think this sounds like the way to go for you, simply search for a reputable provider and make sure you understand the terms of use.

Protecting your information is worth the effort

Creating and maintaining strong passwords may require a little creativity up front, but protecting your information is worth the effort. Victims of identity theft spend countless hours trying to resolve the credit problems, financial disputes, and legal issues that result from the crime.

In addition to creating strong passwords to protect your personal identification, remember to take a few other security precautions, too. Choose a biometric authentication method, like fingerprint or facial recognition, whenever possible. Ensure that your computer’s anti-virus and antispyware software are up to date, take care when using public Wi-Fi networks, and beef up the security of your own  home wireless network.

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Last Edited: January 23, 2018