How to make a strong password: 5 suggestions to help you beat hackers
You can use a password generator to create strong passwords, or you can follow some simple guidelines to create your own passwords and stay a step ahead of hackers.
9 min read
A password is a series of characters that allows you to authenticate yourself when accessing a secure online account. Strong passwords are difficult for hackers to guess and do a better job of keeping your accounts and personal information secure. They’re an easy and essential way to stay safe online, but not everybody understands how to make a strong password for all of their accounts—or how to keep track of all those unique passwords.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of strong passwords and go over five suggestions to help you stay one step ahead of hackers.
Why are strong passwords so important?
Cybercrime is a serious problem these days. And while identity theft can happen in a number of different ways—including via phishing attempts, high-risk phone apps, and social media hacks—a strong password can still be an effective deterrent to hackers.
While hackers rarely try to guess a single password to access a user's personal information, they do conduct so-called "dictionary attacks." These are characterized by their scale and can target thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of users at the same time. Through advanced automated systems, these criminals attempt to guess user IDs by trying many combinations of commonly used emails and passwords.
If your password is a simple one, it’s much easier for hackers to find it in a password dictionary. Depending on the platform under attack, they can then authenticate themselves in your place and access sensitive data.
5 strong password suggestions to help you beat hackers
Generating a unique password from scratch can be frustrating, and judging its strength is often a challenge. Thankfully, there are several techniques you can use to create a password that’s insanely strong and easy to remember.
While many service providers now impose rigid rules to ensure you choose a strong password, the following suggestions can help you stay secure across all your online accounts.
1. Avoid repetition or number sequences
Lots of people fall into the trap of using repetitive numbers or sequences when generating new passwords. It makes sense: the easier a password is to remember, the less you have to worry about going through the whole “Forgot my password” routine.
But, easy though it may be, there’s a crucial problem with this strategy. If your password consists of repetitive elements or a series of numbers, hackers will likely find it easier to guess.
Some hackers may use complex algorithms to crack users’ passwords, and one thing those algorithms look out for is repetition. So, to avoid the pain of dealing with a compromised account or a case of identity theft, don’t repeat or sequence characters when creating a password.
Key takeaway: Mix up your passwords by combining lowercase letters with uppercase and adding numbers and special characters.
2. Don’t use words or numbers that relate to yourself
It’s important to avoid using numbers or words that are directly related to you or your habits. Some common examples include your address and your date of birth. This information is easy for cyber attackers to find, allowing them to use it to explore combinations that make up your password.
An engineer from our security team puts it like this: "Let's take the example of a public Instagram account. Hackers can easily detect the city you live in, or the place where you spend most of your holidays. If you’re often in Marseille, their systems will focus on this city and try to see if your password contains this place. If you’re using Marseille1313, your password can be easily guessed.”
Remember: The more information a hacker has about you, the more likely they are to engage in malicious activities such as trying to access your personal details and accounts. For example, if your Amazon account is hacked, those responsible may well use it to make fraudulent orders or make purchases on your behalf.
Key takeaway: Avoid using any words or numbers that a hacker could easily find and associate with your identity, such as your address, your telephone number or your date of birth.
3. Avoid series that form a pattern on a keyboard
We already talked about the importance of avoiding sequences and repetition, but there’s another form of “patterning” that may not seem so obvious. It has to do with the unique way characters are laid out on your keyboard.
Sequences like QWERTY may not signify much besides your computer layout, but hackers know that many people tend to choose their passwords based on common keyboard patterns. Some of the more common keyboard-inspired passwords include:
- Straight-across sequences such as qwerty, asdfgh, and zxcvb
- Vertical sequences such as 1qaz, 2wsx, and 3edc
- Parallel sequences such as asdf123 and 345ertdfg
All of the above examples appear to be random, but on closer inspection they’re relatively easy for a hacker to guess.
Key takeaway: Pay attention to the sequences on your keyboard, and make sure your passwords don’t include common sequences of characters that form an easily discernible pattern. What may look random to the human eye can be easy for an algorithm to crack.
4. Use your creativity in splicing together random words and numbers
One way to improve the security of your password is to choose a random sequence that means something special to you—and only to you. You might consider starting with a sequence consisting of four complete words taken from different contexts of your life.
What does this look like in practice? Let’s try it out as an exercise:
- Think of two of your favorite songs, in different genres.
- Think of your favorite lyric in each of those songs.
- Now, splice those two different lyrics together to form a funny and memorable combination. The weirder and sillier, the better.
What you’ve just done is drawn on your own creativity and interests to create a bizarre sequence of words that any hacker would be hard-pressed to guess. If you want to make your password even more secure, try adding in numbers and symbols. You can even create a personal pattern, adding a random character between letters or words.
Key takeaway: To thwart potential hackers, avoid using numbers, words or other information that’s directly related to you and your habits. Instead, get creative and try to splice together song lyrics, movie titles or quotes from your favorite books.
5. Don’t use the same password on different platforms
Remembering passwords can be hard if you leave it up to your own memory. That’s why a lot of people tend to come up with a good, strong password and then simply reuse it across all of their accounts. Simple and easy, right?
Well, maybe, but simple doesn’t always mean secure. Hackers know that using the same password across different accounts and platforms is a common practice, so they look out for it.
Key Takeaway: While it may be easier to use one password across multiple accounts, it makes all of those accounts less secure. As a best practice, always have a unique password for each of your online accounts.
How often should you change your passwords?
The question of how often passwords should be changed is a matter of debate. If it’s complicated enough, it shouldn’t be necessary. But if there’s any doubt about whether a third party has access to your data, it should be changed straightaway.
If you think that a third party has been able to access your bank account, it’s advisable to block your card and immediately contact your bank's Customer Service Department.
Is it a good idea to use a password generator?
You can find many password generators online that randomly provide you with word combinations, numbers and special characters to make up a secure password on a turnkey basis. Although these generators can be useful, the passwords they suggest are often impossible to remember.
Instead of using a simple password generator, you may want to consider using a password manager.
Is it a good idea to use a password manager?
These days, with having to remember so many passwords, how can you avoid clicking on “I forgot my password” every other week? Well, this is where a password manager comes in.
“Password managers are essential,” our security engineer explains. “No one should have to remember all of their passwords. The manager asks you to remember only one password that then allows you to access the others, all stored in an encrypted way.”
The password used to access the manager is only known to the user, and—if it’s sufficiently secure—it means that all of your passwords are safe and you don’t have to remember every single one.
On top of this, password managers usually offer an integrated password generator that will suggest a secure combination as soon as you need to create one. If you choose to use the one provided, it will then be saved by your password manager.
How to choose a secure PIN code
Like passwords, PIN codes are used to authenticate your identity. They are typically composed of four to six digits and they are commonly used for bank cards, SIM cards or smart cards.
In order to choose the most secure PIN code, it’s important to choose numbers at random, avoiding repetition or personal information such as your date of birth or postal code... or any other number relating to you and your habits.
N26 automatically detects if your PIN code is not secure enough. If the one you choose doesn’t comply with the defined security measures, it will ask you to enter a new one. Since you can customize your PIN code and reset it whenever you want via the app, feel free to choose a PIN code that seems complicated. Even if you forget it, you can always change it.
To ensure the security and confidentiality of your personal data and information, we encourage you to use secure passwords and PIN codes on all of your platforms and services. And if you think your current credentials might be guessed by someone else, or if memorizing all of your passwords seems like an impossible feat, don’t forget—there’s always the password manager.
Put our password suggestions into action
Now that we’ve covered the basics of password security, it’s time to put our tips into action and update your accounts if necessary.
Remember, the longer your password is–and the more randomly chosen words, special characters and numbers it contains–the more secure it should be.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that all the platforms you use should have a strong password. This should not just be restricted to your banking app or personal online accounts.
For tips on how to create a secure password for your N26 account, visit our support center.
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