Q. I read somewhere that I should change my passwords every month to keep people out. That seems a little extreme, doesn't it? How often should I really change the passwords to my accounts? Do you have any tips on how to create new strong passwords that I won't forget?
-Jeremy, from Loveland, CO, listens to my national radio show on KFKA 1310 AM.
A. If you keep up with my Breaking News Page, Jeremy, you'll know how important changing your password is. Hackers and scammers cook up new ways to break into your account every day. You need to stay ahead of them.
However, I agree that changing your passwords every month seems excessive. It's hard to remember a password that changes that often. I think changing it two or three times a year, or if you suspect it's been broken, is a good balance of security and convenience.
As for creating strong passwords, I have a little trick that is safe and easy to use. Plus, the passwords are easy to remember.
When most people want a memorable password, they make it too simple. The most common passwords are 123abc, 12345, password, a pet's name or your last name. Some people use a single word like "monkey," "Jesus" or "baseball."
Passwords like these make a hacker's job easy. Hackers have programs that can try hundreds of thousands of common passwords and dictionary word combinations in less than a second.
Hackers love it when you make short passwords, too. The longer a password is, the harder it is to crack. You want your password to be at least eight characters, if not more.
I say characters because a good password should have numbers and symbols in addition to letters. That increases the possible character combinations a hacker has to try. More characters plus more possibilities per character equals a harder to crack password.
The strongest password would actually be a string of random characters. Unfortunately, something like "Tl|_|,BwwB2R" isn't easy to remember. Or is it? Let me show you how I came up with it.
Start by thinking up a random sentence. You can use a catch phrase, quote or even a song lyric. I chose a lyric from one of my favorite songs: "Tramps like us, baby we were born to run."
I took the first character from each word to get "tlu,bwwbtr". Not bad, but it could be better. So, I added some symbols in place of similar letters. U becomes |_|, the "to" from the original lyric becomes 2. Then, I capitalized a few of the letters to make a strong password that I can easily remember: "Tl|_|,BwwB2R".
Bonus tip: Setting up consistent symbol replacement and capitalization rules for all your passwords helps keep things from becoming too complex.
However, hackers sometimes hack companies to steal thousands of passwords at once. Your information could be stolen in a phishing scam, too. In these situations, it doesn't really matter how strong your password is.
Once a hacker has these, they might try to find your other accounts. That's why I always recommend a unique password for every account. That doesn't mean you have to think up a new phrase, though.
You can tweak the same password for multiple accounts. For Facebook, you could make it "Tl|_|$,BwwB2RFB." Amazon can be "AmzTl|_|$,BwwB2R."
A strong password is your first line of defense against hackers and scams. Here are three more resources that can help you fight them off.
Q. Hi, Kim! I want to thank you so much for helping me out! I got my first computer in 2012 and your tips and tricks have made me love every minute I spend online. Now, in 2013 I've added backing up my computer with Carbonite to my resolutions list to keep my computer healthy and happy. Do you think this is a good idea? What other computer-themed resolutions do you think I should make?
-Walter, from Jackson, MS, listens to my national radio show on WJNT 1180 AM.
A. You're welcome, Walter! It's my pleasure to walk people through their digital life. I've got plenty of things up my sleeve this year that will keep you happy online for years to come!
Backing up your computer is one of the best computer resolutions you can make, and my advertiser Carbonite is the best way to do it. Everything is automatic so you never forget and your backup is kept safe from any localized disasters. It can even back up the files on your smartphone or tablet.
That keeps your files safe from any crashes, theft or disaster. However, your computer and potentially your identity could still be in jeopardy. I've got three more resolutions to add to your list to keep those safe, though.
Installing it is just the first step, though. The second resolution is to regularly check for and install updates. This is especially important for security programs since thousands of new viruses appear every month.
You should make sure Windows is updated, too. Go to Start>>All Programs>>Windows Update to check. Click "Change Settings" to make sure updates are installing automatically for hassle-free protection.
Make sure you update programs like Java and Flash regularly since those programs use the Internet. It goes without saying that you should keep your browser updated, too. I'll tell you how to do that or help you pick a more secure browser with this tip.
Updating your mobile gadgets is a little easier, since those typically send you notifications when updates are available. Macs do that, too. Just make sure you listen to them!
The next resolution should be to keep yourself updated on the latest scams. Since scammers change their tactics all of the time, it can be tough to know how they're attacking on any given day.
I've already told you a few scams and threats to watch out for in 2013, but hackers are full of surprises. If you want breaking alerts, subscribe to my Security Alert newsletter and visit my Breaking Tech News page often.
There are some scam-avoiding tips that will never change. Make sure your wireless network is totally secure from anyone who might try to sneak on. Also, don't open or respond to email or text messages from someone you don't know.
The last resolution is to watch how you talk to people online. Whether it's your boss, co-workers, family or friends, the things you say online can come back to bite you. Click here for some things you should never say online.
Those posts live forever and could embarrass you or get you fired or - in extreme cases -arrested.
It isn't just what you say. You should also be careful of the pictures and videos you post.
If you keep these resolutions in mind, you and your gadgets will have a much happier 2013.
I can help you with your offline resolutions, too. No matter how you want to better your life, these three tips can help.
I'm guessing that you've made your fair share or resolutions for 2013. While daily goals can be tough to achieve, actually getting them done feels really good.
What can motivate you to achieve those goals? Joe's Goals can.
Once you sign up and create an account to use this free service, Joe's Goals lets you create a weekly calendar of your daily goals and will give you a daily score.
Check off exercise on Monday, and you get a point. But if you succumb to laziness and don't exercise, you will lose a point.
This site essentially turns your goals into a game. It's a great way to track your goals and get motivated.