Lisa O'Leary National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Creating Strong Passwords

*AGA’s Director of Information Technology Nate Craft co-authored this article.

The internet is part of nearly every aspect of our lives from the home to work to play. With the swipe of a tablet or smartphone, you can manage your bank account, pay your bills, communicate with colleagues, friends and family around the world, and store and access information from virtually anywhere. However, it also means that our personal information is at a greater risk of being compromised than ever before – making cybersecurity one of our nation’s top priorities.

ncsam10_logoNational Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) – celebrated every October – was created as a collaborative effort between government and industry officials to educate the public and private sectors through special events and initiatives. Since its inception 10 years ago, NCSAM has grown exponentially, and information about protecting ourselves online continues to reach consumers, small and medium-size businesses, corporations, educational institutions and people across the nation.

So how do we protect ourselves from cyberattacks? The National Cybersecurity Alliance says everyone has a role in securing their part of cyberspace, including the devices and networks they use, starting with strong username and password combinations. Until a more secure method of authentication is conceived there are certain best practices you can utilize when creating a password to better secure your online accounts.

These best practices include:

  •  Use numbers and special characters in passwords: A common technique for “cracking” a password is known as a brute force attack in which a file containing a large list of common words is used to attempt to guess a password. By adding numbers and special characters to your password it will become more difficult to compromise your password via a brute force attack.
  • The longer the password the better: Longer passwords take longer to “crack” because they have more characters and are therefore more difficult to guess.  Most websites require a minimum password length of eight characters, but it is good idea to use a longer password. For example, a 12 character password is twice as strong as an eight character password.
  • Use a different password for every site: Using a different password for each site that you have an account on will ensure that if your password is compromised on one site it is not compromised on all the other sites for which you have accounts.
  • Use a password management application: There are several applications available that can store and maintain your passwords for you. These applications make use of modern cryptography in order to securely store your password in an encrypted file. Instead of remembering 20 passwords you only need to remember one password to unlock your password file.

As part of the month-long initiative, AGA will be posting weekly blog articles about cybersecurity topics, as well as daily content on our Facebook page and Twitter handle using hashtag #NCSAM. Let us know how your organization is informing utility customers about how to stay safe online in the comments section below. AGA will feature your efforts on our blog and social media accounts.

Lisa O'Leary

About Lisa O'Leary

Lisa O'Leary is the Manager of Digital Communications for the American Gas Association. Prior to joining AGA, Lisa served as Manager of Multimedia Communications for the Senator John Heinz History Center, "the Smithsonian's home in Pittsburgh," and as a Web Producer at WPXI-TV, Channel 11 News in Pittsburgh, PA. Lisa is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in Communications.
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