Have you ever experienced a password breach?
How did it feel when you realized that a stranger had intruded into your account and accessed your personal information?
It is essential to adopt password best practices if you want to keep your accounts safe from hackers, as over 80% of data breaches are due to stolen or weak passwords.
Using weak passwords or reusing strong passwords makes it simple for hackers to access your accounts. And, let’s face it, 50% of internet users still use the same password for all of their accounts to make it easier to remember.
While this may not be a bad thing to do, it’s a quick recipe for people looking to hack your account. Not only should your passwords be solid and hard to crack, but they should also be unique across all your accounts and platforms.
We tend to think people that hack our accounts are professional hackers with supercomputers and excellent techniques, this is not always true.
Your account can get hacked by a simple person that can guess your password and log in as you – An easy feat, as 49% of employees record passwords in unprotected plain-text documents, compared to 57% who use sticky notes.
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You risk a password breach when you use passwords like 123456, Qwerty, Password, and 111111 for your accounts, as they are some of the most common passwords making them unsafe and easy to guess.
It is essential to understand the common tactics hackers use to breach your passwords so that you can avoid them.
What Is a Password Breach?
A password breach occurs when someone gains unauthorized access to your password and login information. They are among the most common kinds of data leaks and database dumps in both commercial and residential settings.
For many different reasons, password leaks are a serious issue. The first is that a hacker could acquire access to your internet accounts. Your online security is severely compromised when your password is exposed as part of a data breach.
Even worse, if you use the same password for numerous accounts, they are all vulnerable.
A password breach involving a business might be disastrous for that business because not only will it result in a massive sensitive data leak, but it will also result in customer loss and legal bills. As a result, businesses must ensure that safeguards against password breaches are in place.
Common Tactics Hackers Use To Breach Your Password
Consider a situation where you receive an email that informs you that your account has been compromised, with instructions to change your password by clicking on a provided link. This link directs you to a password renewal page requesting your existing and new passwords.
Attackers create phishing emails that mimic legitimate emails from organizations and send them to thousands of users’ emails.
With this tactic, the hacker creates a sense of urgency by making you believe that your account has been compromised and then steals your password as you try to change it on the renewal page.
Your attacker can also breach your password by guessing your password and username combination.
For example, you could get an email from your service provider informing you that someone has attempted to log into your account. This attempt is an example of a brute force attack.
Your attacker could secretly install malware like Trojan viruses, spyware, and ransomware that sits in the background and collect personal information like your passwords on your computer without your consent.
Malware is malicious software created to conduct a behavior your attacker wants. This software infects your computer and steals your personal information.
Hackers hide malware on the internet, email attachments, email links, online ads, and websites.
Cracking dictionaries contain existing words in a defined dictionary and common passwords. This tactic is based on the logic that most users do not want to memorize long and random characters and therefore use existing words from the dictionary.
Cracking dictionaries take mere hours to breach your passwords. You must use long and complex passwords to stay safe.
Your attacker can eavesdrop on conversations between you and an application or service provider.
With this method, your attacker steals your personal information, such as your password or username, when you communicate with your service provider.
15 Ways To Avoid Password Breaches Effectively
Create Strong Passwords
Using a strong password is one of the best ways to protect your accounts from password breaches. Strong passwords protect your accounts from breaches through guessing or hacking dictionaries.
Strong passwords are long, complicated, made-up words that are difficult to guess by humans and the computer and easy for you to remember simultaneously. It mixes uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
For example, it is almost impossible for someone to guess your password is 1h8Fo0tBu!;) no matter how much they know you.
The longer your passwords are, the better. A strong password is at least eight characters long, although you should make it longer.
You could use misspelled words such as ‘1luvAmb3r!y’ as your passwords to make them unique and challenging to guess using a cracking dictionary. This method helps you prevent a password breach as such passwords can not be found in the dictionary and are difficult to guess.
Use a Password Manager
You can use password managers to store your passwords online instead of writing them on paper where someone else could see them.
Since you must not use the same password for multiple accounts to prevent data breaches, password managers are helpful as they help you store and remember all your passwords.
Password manager software allows you to prevent security breaches by keeping all your passwords in an encrypted digital vault and securing it with a master password. You only have to remember your master password when you use password managers.
For example, some password managers such as LastPass, RoboForm, and Dashlane secure their users with Multi-Factor Authentication. This feature protects your password by requiring multiple authentication factors for verification when you try to log in and access your passwords.
With MFA, attackers would not be able to access your account even if they guess your password correctly.
Use Different Passwords for All Your Accounts
Consider a situation where an attacker installs malware that steals your password when you log into your account in an application. This breach puts your other accounts for which you have used the same password at risk.
Using one password for more than one account is like using one key to open multiple doors, which makes it easy for hackers to break into all the accounts, gadgets, and devices that use this password. It is lousy password hygiene.
You should protect your accounts from security breaches when by using different passwords, as reusing passwords puts your other accounts at risk when one account is compromised and
Most people hesitate to create different passwords for their accounts because they find it difficult to remember. However, some password management tools like Zoho Vault will help you keep and organize your passwords so you no longer have issues trying to remember which passwords go for which platform.
Use Password Generators
An average internet user has more than 30 online accounts that require passwords. It’s no wonder that people reuse passwords as they lack the creativity to make so many different passwords for all their accounts.
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Password generators help you avoid data breaches by using a powerful combination of characters to create unique passwords for accounts. They make random passwords that are hard to guess by humans or computers for all your accounts.
The problem with most free password generators is that although they generate strong passwords for your accounts, you must keep track of them on your own. Some free passwords are buggy and ineffective and sometimes have spyware that just steals all your passwords and causes data breaches.
Imagine having to memorize 50 different passwords with a combination of characters that do not make sense to you. It is no wonder that people reuse the same password for different accounts. Password managers such as Dashlane will generate and store passwords for all of your accounts.
You reduce the risk of security breaches to your account when you use multi-factor authentication, as your attackers can not log into your account even when they guess your password correctly.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) requires you to provide more than one verification factor before logging in to your account.
Here are the five common types of MFAs:
- Knowledge Factor uses the things you know, like your passwords and pins
- Possession Factor uses something you have, like your phone, one-time passwords, and verification SMS.
- Inherence Factor uses what you are like, facial recognition, and biometrics.
- Location Factor is a less common factor that uses your geographical location.
- Behavior Factor uses something you do, like how you use your mouse or type on the keyboard.
Imagine a situation where your attacker tries to hack your account after successfully guessing your password from another device. But still, your account demands fingerprint verification after they input the password and saves you from being a victim of a breached password.
Although it is easy just to use your password and call it a day, you should use multi-factor authentication to prevent security breaches as these factors protect your accounts from human and computer attackers.
Install Anti-Malware Software
Most modern computers and mobile devices come with anti-malware software, but many users still overlook its importance.
Anti-malware software protects your computers and mobile devices from password breaches when attackers try to install malicious software like Trojan that steals your passwords secretly on your device.
You risk a breach of the passwords of all your accounts when you leave your device vulnerable to malware. The malicious software slows your device down and steals your passwords and other account details and personal information like your credit card numbers.
When downloading anti-malware software, you must ensure that you do so from a trusted company because cybercriminals disguise some malware as anti-malware.
For instance, Bitdefender protects your computers from a type of malware called spyware that hides in your device and steals your personal information like passwords, credit card numbers, and other log-in credentials.
Examples of anti-malware include Avast, Kaspersky, and Bitdefender.
Encrypt Your Passwords When Possible
Consider a situation where you want to buy something online, and a cybercriminal tries to steal your credit card number and password. Data encryption will scramble this information as you send it over the internet and render it unrecognizable to possible attackers.
Password encryption works by sending your password to your service provider in a scrambled form that does not make sense to third parties. Along with your encrypted password, you send a key that your receiver passes your password through to unscramble it.
You must check for the lock icon in the status bar of your browser as it shows you that your information is safe on that website.
Encryption also helps you avoid data breaches through spyware, as only authorized parties can access your data.
While symmetric encryptions like DES and RSA use one single key to encrypt and decrypt your passwords, asymmetric passwords like AES use different keys.
Some hybrid encryption like SSL/TLS combines symmetric and asymmetric methods to secure your data correctly.
Never Share Your Password
You should not share your passwords with anyone, no matter how close they are to you, as you can not be sure of their intentions or if they will manage them securely.
For example, you share your password and personal information with someone, and they store it on a compromised device. It puts your account at risk even though the person you shared this information with had no ill-intent.
Because it could be challenging to create and remember different passwords for all your accounts, sharing your passwords could also put other accounts that you have used the same or similar password at risk.
You must avoid sharing your passwords when you can, and if you have to share them, you must make sure to change the password to an unrelated one. Changing your password is stressful as it requires you to create and remember a new password.
Recognize Malicious Websites
Some cybercriminals create websites that steal your passwords and other personal information, so you must know the things to look for to evaluate how secure the websites you visit are.
Malicious websites cause harm by installing malware on your device secretly. These malware cause data breaches by stealing your passwords and personal information on your device.
When you enter a malicious website, malicious software downloads onto your device automatically without your permission, you could also notice multiple screens or windows that you did not open pop up in the background.
You must ensure the lock icon is displayed on your web browser window when visiting new sites. Do not visit sites with URLs that do not begin with HTTPS.
Although cybercriminals try to disguise malicious websites as legitimate, you can recognize most malicious websites from their lousy grammar and spelling errors.
If an untrusted website asks you for your password and credit card numbers in exchange for products or services at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Recognize Phishing Emails
One common method cybercriminals use to breach passwords is sending phishing emails. Your attacker could send you an email that contains an attachment or link that sends you to a malicious website.
For example, you receive an email saying, ‘Your account’s password has been compromised. Attached is a link for you to change your password”.’
You must check your sender’s email address and be cautious if it is public or seems unusual. Most well-known and legitimate organizations have their domain name after the’@’ character—for example, @paypal.com, @apple.com, @amazon.com.
If the email comes from a public account with an address like @gmail.com, it is a scam.
Most phishing emails create a sense of urgency by sending you false information, like a fake debit alert with an attachment that supposedly provides more information. Do not open such attachments as they may contain malicious software.
You must pay attention to details like spelling and grammatical errors in emails you receive from your service providers. Most legitimate companies have strict editorial standards and do not include any errors in the emails they send to their users.
Avoid Linked Accounts
You risk a severe security breach when you link your accounts on social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
It is not uncommon for you to see cybercriminals breach a celebrity’s accounts on all of their social networks simultaneously. Attackers do this by breaching all the accounts linked to one compromised account on a social network.
Although it might be an option, you should not use your accounts on networks like Facebook and Google to sign into other websites. Do not risk a password breach because you are too lazy to complete the sign-up process.
For example, you try to sign up on a new website or application and see a sign that says “Sign in with Google” or some variation of such message. Although it is easy to skip the sign-in process and link your accounts, you must avoid linking any of your accounts.
You risk compromising all linked accounts when you use it to log into a new website or software that might have malicious intentions or misuse the information stored in those accounts as they can access them.
Update Your Apps and Software
Although updates are available almost daily for some applications or programs installed, most users push them off and assume they are unnecessary.
Updating your software reduces your account’s vulnerability to password breaches by providing security updates.
Your service provider is responsible for the security of their software. Most legitimate companies ensure that their software is up to date and resistant to possible security attacks.
They also keep the software secure by following trends and equipping it with new tools to fight every potential security threat.
Almost every time there is a featured update, it includes a security update in the new version.
You risk your account and password safety by new security threats and malware that the software version you currently use has no protection against when you refuse to update your software.
Updating your apps will also remove hacks like spyware and malware that steal your personal information and breach your passwords. Some malwares are created for specific software versions and rendered useless when you update.
Never Leave Your Device Unattended
Apart from getting your device stolen, you risk security breaches when you leave them unattended.
Imagine you leave your phone unattended at a party, and someone with ill intention picks it up and installs malware that steals your personal information and breaches your passwords.
Most of the time, we stay logged into important websites and accounts that contain sensitive information on our devices, so you risk security breaches when you leave them unattended with no device password protection.
You could also experience a password breach when you leave your phone without a password, and someone accesses software like your password managers and gain access to all your passwords.
If you must leave your devices, such as your mobile phone, laptop, or computer, unattended for some time, you must ensure that you lock them with a strong and secure password that humans or computers can not guess.
This malware can stay in your phone, collecting your personal information like credit card details and passwords before you notice, if at all you do.
Do Not Use Public Information
People sometimes overshare information on social media, and this provides cyber criminals with personal information they could use to guess their passwords correctly on social media.
Using public information in your passwords makes them weak and easy to guess by humans and devices.
You should never use information such as your name, nickname, pet’s name, birthday, significant numbers or dates, email address, or username as your password.
Most people use personal information they have not yet shared publicly as their passwords because it makes it easy for them to remember. You must avoid doing this as people close to you that have this information could use this information to guess your passwords and log into your accounts.
Your accounts are safer when you use made-up words combined with numbers and special characters that have nothing to do with you as your passwords, making it almost impossible for people to guess them.
Use Password Strength Checker Software
It is difficult to know if your password is safe from breaches with new rules, malware, and password dictionaries created by cybercriminals.
Password checkers like Dashlane and LastPass helps you analyze and test your passwords’ vulnerability to security breaches. The software informs you of any weaknesses your passwords have and tell you how to fix them.
Most password checkers use algorithms that calculate how long your password will take to be hacked by brute force or password dictionaries. They also check your passwords’ word strength and test them against password dictionaries.
You must ensure that the password checkers you use are legitimate, not malware disguising as one. Be very careful of where you input your passwords to avoid security breaches.
Good password strength checkers should help you create stronger passwords for your accounts and not compromise the passwords you input into them for checking. Legitimate password strength checkers do not store your passwords after checking them.
You can avoid password breaches when you practice good password hygiene, such as using strong passwords, creating custom passwords for all your accounts, and anti-malware software and password software to secure your devices.
Password managers remain one of the best practices you should adopt to keep your personal information safe by avoiding password breaches.
It is never good practice to share your passwords with other people, as this puts your accounts at risk regardless of how strong your password is.
You should be suspicious and vigilant when interacting with people and websites on the internet, as cybercriminals create new ways to steal your passwords almost daily.
Scrutinize the details of every new website you visit to avoid being a victim of a password breach. Here’s a list of our best password managers for your secured password journey.