How to pick strong passwords and keep them that way

If there’s one thing people associate with modern technology, it’s passwords. They’re everywhere, and most of us use them for dozens of things every day. Yet most people are shockingly indifferent about their password security. Most of us probably know someone who uses the same password for everything, from their computer and email to their Facebook and bank accounts — and that password might be something as obvious as their birthday or the name of the street where they grew up. And we also probably know someone who has a sticky note on the side of their monitor labelled “Passwords” (in red, double-underlined) with a list of everything from Twitter to Netflix just sitting in the open for anyone to read.

These practices might sound like something from our grandparents’ generation, but that’s not strictly true: Last week I watched a full-fletched member of Generation D trying to shift from a Samsung Galaxy S (er, Fascinate) to an HTC Rezound via his notebook computer. How was he moving all his passwords over? He had a piece of paper in his wallet with “all his passwords” — and by all he meant three. One for email and social networking, one for his great aunt’s email (“I check it for her”), and another for everything else. Looking over his shoulder, all three were everyday words: mophandle,mumbler, and lillian. Guess which was his aunt’s?

Fortunately, there are simple ways to make passwords both hard-to-guess and easy-to-remember. Unfortunately, the technology industry sometimes gets in the way of using them. Here’s a rundown of common password weaknesses and some ways you can improve your passwords and your online safety.