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Your Strong Password Isn’t so Strong

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Banks rely on usernames and passwords as a layer of protection and authentication to prevent criminals from accessing your accounts. However researchers now show that your password—even though it may be a relatively “strong” one, might not be strong enough.

When you create a password and provide it to a website, that site is supposed to then convert them to “hashes” as Ars Technica explains “Instead, they work only with these so-called one-way hashes, which are incapable of being mathematically converted back into the letters, numbers, and symbols originally chosen by the user. In the event of a security breach that exposes the password data, an attacker still must painstakingly guess the plaintext for each hash—for instance, they must guess that “5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99” is the MD5 hashes for “password”.

But Ars did an experiment with some newbie technologist all the way up to expert hackers to see what they could do to crack the hash.

“The characteristics that made “momof3g8kids” and “Oscar+emmy2″ easy to remember are precisely the things that allowed them to be cracked. Their basic components—”mom,” “kids,” “oscar,” “emmy,” and numbers—are a core part of even basic password-cracking lists. The increasing power of hardware and specialized software makes it trivial for crackers to combine these ingredients in literally billions of slightly different permutations. Unless the user takes great care, passwords that are easy to remember are sitting ducks in the hands of crackers.”

How to get hacked

Dictionary attacks: Avoid consecutive keyboard combinations— such as qwerty or asdfg. Don’t use dictionary words, slang terms, common misspellings, or words spelled backward. These cracks rely on software that automatically plugs common words into password fields. Password cracking becomes almost effortless with a tool like “John the Ripper” or similar programs.

Simple passwords: Don’t use personal information such as your name, age, birth date, child’s name, pet’s name, or favorite color/song, etc. When 32 million passwords were exposed in a breach last year, almost 1% of victims were using “123456.” The next most popular password was “12345.” Other common choices are “111111,” “princess,” “qwerty,” and “abc123.”

Reuse of passwords across multiple sites: Reusing passwords for email, banking, and social media accounts can lead to identity theft. Two recent breaches revealed a password reuse rate of 31% among victims.

Protect yourself:

  1. Make sure you use different passwords for each of your accounts.
  2. Be sure no one watches when you enter your password.
  3. Always log off if you leave your device and anyone is around—it only takes a moment for someone to steal or change the password.
  4. Use comprehensive security software and keep it up to date to avoid keyloggers (keystroke loggers) and other malware.
  5. Avoid entering passwords on computers you don’t control (like computers at an Internet café or library)—they may have malware that steals your passwords.
  6. Avoid entering passwords when using unsecured Wi-Fi connections (like at the airport or coffee shop)—hackers can intercept your passwords and data over this unsecured connection.
  7. Don’t tell anyone your password. Your trusted friend now might not be your friend in the future. Keep your passwords safe by keeping them to yourself.
  8. Depending on the sensitivity of the information being protected, you should change your passwords periodically, and avoid reusing a password for at least one year.
  9. Do use at least eight characters of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols in your password. Remember, the more the merrier.

10. Strong passwords are easy to remember but hard to guess. Iam:)2b29! — This has 10 characters and says “I am happy to be 29!” I wish.

11. Use the keyboard as a palette to create shapes. %tgbHU8*- Follow that on the keyboard. It’s a V. The letter V starting with any of the top keys. To change these periodically, you can slide them across the keyboard. Use W if you are feeling all crazy.

12. Have fun with known short codes or sentences or phrases. 2B-or-Not_2b? —This one says “To be or not to be?”

13. It’s okay to write down your passwords, just keep them away from your computer and mixed in with other numbers and letters so it’s not apparent that it’s a password.

14. You can also write a “tip sheet” which will give you a clue to remember your password, but doesn’t actually contain your password on it. For example, in the example above, your “tip sheet” might read “To be, or not to be?”

15. Check your password strength. If the site you are signing up for offers a password strength analyzer, pay attention to it and heed its advice.

While you must do your part to manage effective passwords, banks are working in the background to add additional layers of security to protect you. For example, financial institutions are incorporating complex device identification, which looks at numerous characteristics of the online transaction including the device you are using to connect. iovation, an Oregon-based security firm, goes a step further offering Device Reputation, which builds on complex device identification with real-time risk assessments. iovation knows the reputations of over 1.3 billion devices in iovation’s device reputation knowledge base. By knowing a devices reputation, banks can better determine whether a particular device is trustworthy before a transaction has been approved.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

About the Author
ROBERT SICILIANO, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com is fiercely committed to informing, educating, and empowering Americans so they can be protected from violence and crime in the physical and virtual worlds. His "tell it like it is" style is sought after by major media outlets, executives in the C-Suite of leading corporations, meeting planners, and community leaders to get the straight talk they need to stay safe in a world in which physical and virtual crime is commonplace. Siciliano is accessible, real, professional, and ready to weigh in and comment at a moment's notice on breaking news.

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