Cyber Security: What Every Student Should Know About Their Passwords

It’s happened again. Hackers found their way inside a major website and stole approximately 450,000 account logins and passwords. Those passwords were then published for the world to see. Yahoo is not alone. Last month, 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords showed up on a Russian website. You may be thinking, “I use those websites”. As students, you’re encouraged to, but there are some steps you can take to keep your personal information safe online.

“More and more people are putting themselves online,” said Drew Blom, Rasmussen College Design Instructor. “Hackers know that, and they are not just trying to mess with your online life. They’re using passwords to access personal information, steal your identity, and ultimately your money.” That’s why Blom says it’s so important to pay attention to the information that’s contained within each online account, and that starts with having a strong password.

Have you used the same password more than once, maybe even multiple times? Does your password contain your first name or a series of numbers? If so, you might as well turn over your wallet. A major security breach three years ago resulted in a study by Imperva Application Defense Center (ADC) of the most used passwords. Imperva found nearly a third of users chose passwords whose length is equal or below six characters, and nearly half used names, slang words, dictionary words or consecutive digits or keyboard keys like “123456”. Other common passwords were “password,” “iloveyou,” “princess,” “rockyou,” and “abc123”.

“It may seem like a no-brainer,” said Blom. “Still, people are not paying attention to their passwords as much as they should.” When it comes to choosing a password, Blom says think numbers, letters, and symbols. The more unusual the combination, the better. Also, stay away from the traditional spelling of words because hackers can easily check these against a database. Instead, think of symbols that can represent words within your password. Here are some other password tips:

  • Don’t use your social security number.
  • Don’t use your anniversary date or birthday.
  • When you set-up a new account, change the default password right away.
  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites.
  • Change your passwords every 90 days.

Choosing a password is one thing. Remembering it is another. Students do almost everything online these days, so how do you remember all those passwords? Blom suggests creating a theme behind your passwords. For example, use a collection of elementary school teachers, and the year you had them or ask yourself, “What do I use this website for?” If you’re registering for LinkedIn, you may want to incorporate a phrase into your password specific to that site. Make it personal, something only you would know. And it may seem like a great idea, but creating a spreadsheet or document with all of your passwords could lead to trouble.

“Even if you print it out and put it in a safe, that document was stored somewhere on your computer,” said Blom. “Your best bet is to keep your passwords in your head.”

One final piece of advice, Blom says is stay informed. The sooner you learn of a security breach, like Yahoo the better. That way you can change your password immediately and make sure none of your accounts have been tampered with.

Do you have other advice on how to keep your passwords safe? What’s worked for you? Tell us in our comments section below.

Molly Andersen

Molly Andersen is the Senior Strategic Communications and Brand Engagement Manager at Collegis Education. She's a passionate storyteller who believes in the power of education. Molly is responsible for creating content that educates, engages and inspires current, past and future students at Rasmussen College. 

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