Bottom Line Up Front: The majority of Internet users are at risk of loss of personal information due to poor online security practices. Fortunately, there are 3 simple steps to stronger online security that you can do today for free.
I have been creating usernames and passwords since the mid-1990s. Like most people, I used the same or similar ones all the time. Why? Was it laziness? Partly, yes. Mostly it was just so I could remember them all. It was easy to go to Amazon.com then to my bank then to some online forum and log in because it was all the same. Then a few things happened that changed everything.
- I started to realize that if somehow someone got a hold of one of these passwords, it would be very easy to quickly run through my whole online presence. And my online presence, the skin I had in the game, was growing exponentially each year.
- Web sites started making you use more complex passwords (longer, special characters, capital letters, numbers, etc.). This forced my hand.
I got motivated to care and it was very easy to do actually. Here are the steps.
Step 1: Get a Username & Password Manager
The best one I and many others have ever used is LastPass. In a nutshell, it is a digital safe. You remember one username and password to get in and then it remembers all the other complicated ones for you. I have tried others and this is the best one for a littany of reasons. You can read more about it at the link below. Save yourself time, take my recommendation, and get an account.
Step 2: Clean Up Your Existing Mess
Now you need to go to all the places you can think of where you have accounts and change them all. You can create new usernames and passwords, store them in LastPass, and not have to remember them again. I did this for more than 100 places online. I took me a whole day. I wish I were kidding.
Step 3: Maintenance (Daily Use)
Now you can use the web interface (plug-in for your browser) or the phone/tablet app to pull up a username and password if you need it. If you are in your browser, LastPass will automatically fill this complicated password with 15 characters in there for you. Every time you need to create a new online account, do it using the password generation feature in LastPass.
What Do I Have to Remember?
At the end of the day, I recommend memorizing your LastPass log-in info obviously, but also your primary email address password. The email address is the gateway to everything. You can use it to recover lost passwords and verify your identity. See further reading below for ways to create strong passwords you will actually be able to remember.
One More Tip
Creating strong usernames (not just passwords) also protects you, so do it when available. For example, if I know your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you always use the same usernames everywhere “you100”, it would make it easier for me to try to pry into your online life. If you use a mixture of various emails and always choose weird usernames I would never piece together (ty6734, you870866, youFEB15, etc.), it makes you even harder to mess with. LastPass will remember those too, so take advantage of it.
If you have any tech challenges with LastPass, I am happy to help. It is a very powerful tool and pretty user-friendly. What are you waiting for? Do it now!
QUESTION: What other tips do you have for creating a strong online presence? Post thoughts to comments.