Protect Yourself in Your Uber-connected Life

Start with your passwords.

January 2018

By Kathleen Zenisek

We live in a very connected world.

Think of all you do online: shop, bank, research, stream movies/music, play games, email, chat and maybe even find a soulmate. You probably have a password for all of these sites too but hopefully not the same password for every site. If you do - keep reading, you need to make some changes fast.

Do you have any idea how secure your passwords are? There are websites that can help you determine that - here are a few: passwordmeter.com, password.kaspersky.com and howsecureismypassword.net. Note, I checked with my IT department before I tried any of theses - as I am as leery of everything and everyone - they have pounded that into me.

The sites tell you DO NOT USE YOUR PASSWORD - so I made up ones close to mine. I am horrified to report that my online banking password scored 36 percent for strength with estimates of two seconds to four minutes to hack. The old saying "physician, heal thyself" comes to mind, so let's fix this together.

First State Bank Password Rules to Follow

Incorporating the rules above, here are a few ways to create safe, yet memorable passwords.

Root Words: Start with two or three root words, something you can remember yet have some strength characteristics. Thinking back to my favorite childhood cartoon, I picked "moose and squirrel." Next I changed "and" to the ampersand symbol (&), capitalized the same letter in each word and changed "s" to 5, and I have mOo5e&5Quirrel. From there, I added an account identifier like "FB" for Facebook, or "$$" for my bank account. This password scored 100 percent strength and 36 centuries to 204 million years to break.

Keyboard Patterns: This doesn't involve remembering words but rather a pattern on your keyboard. For example: 5tgh1qas8ikl - if you look on your keyboard this starts with a root number (perhaps a relative's birthday) and then creates a pattern of two letters below the number and one to the right and repeat. While the password is strong itself, add your identifiers behind it with capital letters (i.e. FB for Facebook), to be even stronger. With identifiers, this scored 100 percent and 327 centuries to 10 million years to break. Warning: if you solely use your phone or tablet, patterns can get tricky on a digital keyboard.

Passphrase: Pick a phrase/sentence you can remember. Here is mine: I graduated from Leadership Macomb Class XII in 2009 and served on the board since 2012. This becomes lgfLMCXi2asotbs2 - and is scrambled enough to not require further substitutions. Again, you can add identifiers on the end for your various accounts. I scored 100 percent strength and 10,000 centuries to 145 trillion years to break.

Random Words: Take words that have no logical connection but you can remember, for example: chicken, puppies and chardonnay - three things I like. Replace "e" with 3 and "s" with 5, capitalize the last letter and add "!", and it becomes chick3Npuppi35chardonnaY! - Yikes! However, this scored 100 percent and 43 centuries to 115 octillion (what is that!) years. Now if I can only remember how to spell chardonnay.

Consonants and Vowels: I like to ride my bike in the Nautical Mile Ride in St. Clair Shores, so I use these words and remove the vowels so I have NtclMlRd. Next I add all the vowels at the end and capitalize the first vowel so I have NtclMlRdAuiaieie and add meaningful numbers at the end. Now that's quite a password: NtclMlRdAuiaieie518. I scored 100 percent and 10,000 centuries and nine quadrillion years (is that more or less than 115 octillion?)!

You will quickly notice that long passwords score very high, however your account may limit the number of characters and not allow passwords over 12-14 characters. The tips above can still work, you just need to limit your sentence length or use shorter words.

Many websites also ask you for security questions - and a weak answer can undo all your security efforts by making it easy for a hacker (or angry ex-spouse) to figure out these answers with little effort. But fear not, there is a trick for these questions - use an unrelated answer for all i.e. "What is your father's middle name?" answer "Squash". If you aren't allowed to answer the same answer for all, just add the last word to the answer i.e. "name Squash". Those of you born in a city that's hard to spell, like Menominee (my birth city), can thank me later.

P.S. It's okay to write down your passwords. You just need to store them in a safe, secure place far, far away from your computer.

Kathleen Zenisek is a First Vice President and Director of Marketing at First State Bank.