How to Set Up Secure Passwords (And Remember Them)


You've got one password for your bank account. Another for your work laptop. And still more for your favorite online shopping, social media and photo-sharing sites.

Keeping track of them all can drive you nuts -- especially when you are prompted to come up with newer, stronger passwords every few months.

The key to more secure passwords -- and more memorable ones -- is to think length rather than complexity, says Victor Diaz, USAA's executive director of information security services.

Cybercriminals use automated programs to cycle through passwords, so the longer the password, the harder it will be for them to crack the code.

"Get it out past 12 to 15 characters, including spaces," Diaz says. "You could use a line from your favorite poem or lyrics from a song you know you'll remember."

Here are four more sanity-saving tips for passwords that are hard to hack:

  • Don't count on special characters to save you. You can throw a few hash marks or an exclamation point onto the end of a short password, but it's still a short password and easy to crack. A short but complex password still isn't as safe as a long one.
  • There's safety in variety. Don't use the same password for all your accounts unless you want that jerk who broke into your Facebook® to have access to your bank account, too.
  • Set up a password safe. Free software programs such as Password Safe let users store all their passwords inside a single encrypted site protected by a master security code. "Once you're in, you just cut and paste," Diaz says.
  • Two factors are better than one. For an extra layer of protection, use a mobile app like VIP Access, which generates a unique code every 30 seconds. You have to enter the code when you log in to an account, so even if a crook has your password, he can't access your account without the code. The USAA Mobile app includes a security code tool.
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