Tech-Friendly: Computer security 101 — use strong passwords

By Paul Gorski

Reader “Curt” thought I did readers a disservice with my column “Tech-Friendly: So what if Google knows all my Wi-Fi passwords?” (, Sept. 18-24 issue) by overstating my concern that Google collects and stores many Wi-Fi passwords. See his comments at the link above.

Curt raised some good points, but I know from experience that many users use the same password for everything. That is a very, very bad practice.

As I stated last week: you should keep different passwords for your different accounts, Wi-Fi, e-mail, banking and more, and you should change all of your passwords at least twice per year. You should also avoid sending passwords and sensitive account information in e-mails.

Also, passwords should not be words found in the dictionary, pet names or proper names. Passwords should be at least eight characters in length, the longer the better — go for 14 characters, if you can. “Strong” passwords include numbers, special characters and a combination of upper- and lower-case characters.

Microsoft, in uncharacteristic fashion, has a good article about creating relatively strong passwords at:

A recent trend has been to use passphrases, or combinations of words, to create more secure passwords. However, passphrases are not always as effective as long, random passwords meeting the mix of characters noted above. When the passphrase fad started, people were creating sentences, like “iwalkmydog.” That’s still too easy to hack.

Passphrases created with random associations of words are better; example: “jumpratbluealcatraz!” Unfortunately, some online sites will force you to use the more traditional strong password model described earlier. That’s fine; just remember to use different passwords for your different accounts.

I know storing your passwords in your Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox browser cache might seem to make your life easier, but I strongly recommend disabling “storing” or “keeping” passwords in your browser.

Not storing the password will force you to remember it, and hopefully remind you to change it periodically. Also, when the password is stored, anyone using your computer login will have access to your accounts, as you’ve probably stored a link to your account in addition to storing the password.

A list of “the worst passwords of all time” may be found at: I’m not sure how accurate the list is, but don’t use any of passwords in this list. Please note this list includes words you may find offensive.

Regarding the original topic of Wi-Fi password security in last week’s article: who’s up for an article about how to best secure your home wireless network? If I get a post or e-mail requesting advice about how to protect a home wireless network, that will be the topic for my next article.

Paul Gorski ( has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2013, issue

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