Imagine for a moment that your job is to break into personal accounts on websites and collect the data you find. What makes your job easy is that many fail to create good passwords to protect their personal accounts. You just need to run down a password list, such as the list of the 25 most common passwords for 2012 and with a little luck, you’re in. As a pretend identity thief, you know that the average person has 25 online accounts and 2 out of 3 people use 1 or 2 passwords for all of those accounts. If you figure out the password for one website you’ll definitely try it for other popular websites.

Now, let’s go back to being ourselves. We want to make anyone who wants to break into our accounts as difficult as possible; while we are at it, let’s make our passwords a little easier to remember. Here are three steps to do just that:

  1. Use numbers, case sensitive letters, special characters and 8 or more characters
    You’ve likely heard this one before. This tip (or in some cases, requirement) by itself can make creating passwords difficult (or dreadful). This is an opportunity to be creative and use phonetic replacements to create a good password.  For example, you can replace the letter “O” with a zero, or an “S” with a dollar sign and so on. For example, the password “Rice Krispies” would become “R!c3Kri$pieS”
  2. Instead of creating a memorable word, create a memorable phrase
    The next level is to take a phrase and apply some creative phonetics to it: “I Love Twinkies” becomes “iLUvTw!nKies!”
  3. Create unique passwords by building the name of the account into it
    The last step is to pick a good password phrase, attach the name of the account at the beginning, middle or end and then use a character to connect the two. If you pick the password phrase “43%LooNy” for your gmail account and the character “@” your unique password would be “43%LooNy@gmail” Applying the same process to other accounts: “43%LooNy@reddit” “43%LooNy@linkedin” and so on.

The take away:

  • Don’t use simple passwords
  • Don’t use just one or two passwords for all of your online accounts
  • Use phonetics creatively to include numbers and special characters
  • Use several words together for a password phrase
  • Include the account name somehow to make each password unique

For more information on picking a great password, check out this infographic.