Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill has been a journalist in Northern Ireland for over 20 years working with, among others, the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and the Irish News. She is also a news reporter on Q Radio, a weekly columnist with the Irish News and a commentator for the BBC. She is a mother of four children - two of them teenagers - and as such is also a full-time professional worrier.

Choosing passwords – make your digital defences so strong you make cyber criminals cry

Choosing passwords for our online dealings can be a complex business. We’re all different. Some of us choose such elaborate and complicated passwords that we lock ourselves out of important websites and give ourselves a headache. While the lazier amongst us go to zero effort with their passwords – I’m looking at you ‘admin123’ password – leaving themselves wide open to hacking.

We use passwords every day of our lives for hugely important business – online banking, checking our credit card balances, shopping and social media. A hacker gets near any of this and they’ll clear your account out. You chose your password badly on your social media accounts and you’ll have someone promoting rude websites in your name and tagging all 1,500 of your friends to a cheap sunglasses sale or fake news generated by Russia.

Cyber criminals can use your emails to get your personal details such as your bank accounts, address and date of birth to steal your identity. Before you know it you’ve had seven credit card accounts set up in your name, six loans taken out by fake you and someone else is living a life of luxury with your money while your credit rating crashes.

If that happens, and it has happened to millions of people, you’ll be sorry you didn’t use the first three letters of your first ever dog’s name, the last three letters of the middle name of your primary five school teacher, with the year Wham released Careless Whisper and the year you found out the truth about the Easter Bunny stuck on the end for good measure. Make those digital pirates sweat.

If you can believe it, the most commonly used password in the world is ‘123456’, followed closely by the hugely imaginative ‘password’. The third most used password is ‘12345’ and the fourth is ‘12345678’. We have ‘qwerty’ in there on the list and ‘abc123’ also. Number 13 on the most commonly used passwords list is ‘letmein’ and number 21 is ‘superman’.

None of these passwords will test the metal of any good hacker. We need to make things harder for them, not hand them our money and our identities on a plate to use as they see fit.

People can be extremely flippant when it comes to online security. You wouldn’t go out and leave your front door laying open with a sign saying ‘please rob me’, why would do something similar online? Be sensible and put up the strongest defences against digital criminals intent of stealing your hard earned cash.

Creating Hack Proof Passwords

Use three random words to create a strong and memorable password. Let your imagination run wild and pick three words that mean something to you. These days social media accounts can give away a lot of details about ourselves so it’s best not to use the name of your favourite football team or your child’s name.

Cyber criminals spend every waking moment trying to outsmart ordinary people, they are not stupid, they know we might replace our ‘s’ with ‘5’ in the likes of pa55word’ or our ‘L’ with ‘1’. We need to always stay one step ahead of these gangsters.

Never use the following personal details in your password. It will take a cyber criminal minutes to crack:
Your name
Your mobile phone number
Your child’s name
Your pet’s name
Your place of birth
A holiday destination
Your partner’s name
The name of your favourite TV show
Your favourite football team’s name
Your street name
Your parent’s name
And never use the word ‘password’ or ‘admin’ for your password.

A good strong passwords that will give the cyber criminals a headache consists of at least 10 characters – and the more characters the stronger the password – that are a combination of letters, numbers and symbols such as @, £, % ! etc. Passwords are typically case sensitive so get rocking on the uppercase and lowercase letters.

Do not use the same password on multiple sites. Even slight differences can help.

You should avoid writing your password down anywhere. How many of us have written our passwords on a stick-in note and stuck it on our computers at work? Next time you take a selfie at your desk there it will be in the background for all to see. If you think you’ll really have a hard time remembering your password, write down hints for it instead that only you will understand.

Protect yourself always. As well as using strong passwords, download software when prompted by your devices. The downloads often include increased security measures. And avoid using public wi-fi to check online banking and to do online shopping, they are often vulnerable to attack in a public setting.

There really is no need to keep really important information behind very weak passwords. Get creative, make your digital defences so strong and your passwords so mind boggling that they are simply impenetrable that you make cyber criminals cry.