Web-savvy family: How to create secure online passwords

By Lynn Hargrove on May 28, 2012
In today’s digital world, both parents and children use their computers and mobile devices for everything from connecting with family and friends through email and social networks, to shopping online. But with so many sites and login details to remember, many people – including children – often create a weak password and use it for multiple sites. The most common passwords used are “password,” “123456,” “qwerty” and “abc123,” which can leave you and your children vulnerable to Internet hackers and identity theft. 

A weak password can be especially worrisome when it comes to email and social networks. Why? Because if a hacker gains control of your (or your child’s) email, they can change all your other passwords by clicking on the “forgot my password” link on the other websites. And if they gain control of your (or your child’s) social network, they can scam or send dangerous links to all of the contacts. 

I often tell parents and children that picking a single master password that they’ll remember – and then customizing that password for different websites – is the best way to manage all their passwords. The first step is to choose a good master password that uses more than six characters and a combination of letters and numbers, rather than actual words. The second step is to make sure you change it often for better protection. 

I’ll use the phrase “I went to grandma’s for dinner” as an example. I would reduce this phrase to each of its first letters and use the number “2” to replace the word “to” and the number “4” to replace the word “for” – to end up with “Iw2g4d.” I would then add the first and last letter of the website I’m logging into, and place those at the beginning and end of my password. If that website is Facebook, then my password for this site would be “FIw2g4dk.” This trick helps me remember a variety of passwords, while keeping them complex enough to make it hard for cybercriminals to crack. Plus, I end up with different passwords for different accounts, which means that even if one of them is compromised, the others will still be secure.

Here are a few more important tips to help keep you and your children safe online:
  • Know your child’s password. Make sure you have your child’s passwords for email accounts, social networking sites and instant messaging. It’s a good idea so that you can review whom your child is communicating with and – in the event of trouble – you’ll have access. If he or she changes his or her password, they need to let you know.  As long as there is open dialogue between parent and child about the use of these sites, kids will have a better understanding (especially at a younger age) as to why mom or dad need that level of access.
  • Never write down passwords. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of passwords you need to enter in a day – even when you create and use complex and unique ones. Resist the urge to keep track of passwords in a list stored on a computer or on a piece of paper next to the computer. These can be easily lost or stolen. Instead, consider downloading a computer application that manages passwords, like Norton Identity Safe
  • Have “The Talk.” Discuss what your kids and their friends are seeing and doing online. Talk to them about protecting private information (name, phone number, etc.) and never sharing passwords with friends. Reinforce rules of appropriate online behaviour (language, private information, cyber ethics, illegal downloading, limiting hours of usage, and avoiding inappropriate adult sites) and make sure your children feel comfortable approaching you if they encounter an inappropriate or embarrassing situation online.

Now that you’ve learned how to create complex passwords, make sure you always remember to log out of all your accounts – and teach your children to do the same.  In doing this, you’ll be better armed to ward off cybercriminals and ensure that only you have access to your personal information. 

For more information on how to stay safe online, visit Norton's website.

Courtesy of Lynn Hargrove, Director of Consumer Solutions for Symantec Canada

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