Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Keeping your digital data safe is very important. Where do you keep the keys to your digital kingdom? How safe are your digital details? In 20 years of office organizing and productivity consulting, I have encountered many “systems”. Let’s look at some less secure options I have seen in my career.
High-Risk Password Options
Passwords kept in written form. Anyone in your office can easily see them. They are difficult to secure when you are not there. To use them, you need to be present in that space. If you take them with you and you lose them, where is the backup? Do you even recall all the accounts you have? Here are some common locations I encounter in my work.
Sticky notes on the computer monitor, desktop, on the outside of bookcases, filing cabinets, and more.
Notecards kept in a file box.
Recipe file boxes.
Notebook with pages and pages of passwords.
Password Lists under the computer keyboard.
Moving on to digital solutions that put you at higher risk. Keeping password documents without at least password protection is risky. Anyone with access to your computer can open and view all these documents and the vital information they contain. Do you use any of these “systems”?
Unprotected Word document / Google Doc with all your passwords on the computer desktop
Unprotected / Excel spreadsheet on the computer desktop.
Stored login information on your internet browsers. Making access to important and sensitive accounts available to anyone using your computer can put you at risk. If a hacker gains access to your computer, they could extract the list of passwords you have saved.
Risky Password Strategies
One password for everything.
This is the worst possible solution. Why? If one of your accounts becomes compromised, it puts all the others sharing that password at risk. Your password combination will work everywhere you used it. The risks are huge, but it's tempting to do it.
Using one of the most common passwords like qwerty, password, 12345, qwerty123, 1q2w3e, 12345678, 1111111, or 1234567890 among others. Other combinations of sequential keys on the computer keyboard also take little effort to crack.
Re-using passwords from the past. You don't know if it was compromised before.
Using personal facts that can be easily found.
Year of your birth
Name of your dog or cat
Name of your spouse, your children
Name of your street
Special alert here!!! Those tempting games on social media sites ask for answers to many of your personal details. Your answers willingly provide the information you may have used as answers to security questions for your accounts or used to create your passwords.
Please, protect yourselves and stop giving out your private details. The games look innocent enough, but carefully consider who might gather this information. Here are some examples:
Favorite sports teams’ names.
Month you were born.
Month you got married.
Name of your favorite teacher.
Name of schools you attended.
Year you graduated from HS or College.
Where you lived in 2nd grade
Factors That Lead to Password Vulnerability
Password vulnerability is based on several factors. Here are a few scenarios that I found on howsecureismypassword.net that show how vulnerable you might be.
The simpler and shorter your passwords are, the more likely they can be cracked instantly.
Lower case If you use a password with up to 7 lower case letters, can be cracked instantly. Increase from 7 letters to 10 letters will take 58 minutes to crack. Increasing the number of letters to 15 and cracking will take one thousand years.
Combination of upper- and lower-case letters:
Upper- and lower-case letter passwords with seven characters can be breeched in 25 seconds. Increase that number to 10 and it will take one month to breech. Combinations of upper- and lower-case letters that are 15 letters long will take 43 million years to crack.
Character strings of numbers only can be cracked instantly for strings up to 10 characters long. Make your password 15 numbers long, and you will up the time to crack to 6 hours. Increase to 18 numbers long and it will take about 9 months to crack.
Letters, numbers, and symbols:
Passwords containing seven characters can be cracked in 6 minutes, increase to 10 characters increases the time to crack to 5 years to get access. 15-character passwords with a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols take 15 billion years to crack.
How to better protect your accounts?
Check haveibeenpwned.com to see if you are using compromised passwords. Change compromised passwords immediately,
Stop using less secure methods to store your passwords.
Remove passwords from your browsers, simply add a few per day to your new password manager.
Evaluate password manager software to find one that meets your needs. It could be a personal, professional, family, or business plan. Create a strong password for that account that you can remember. Document it somewhere secure.
Consider using a password manager program like LastPass, 1Password, KeePass, or Dashlane, among many others.
Since the average user has 192 unique passwords in their accounts, there is no way to recall them all. You want your data protected. LastPass and 1Password, for example, use the Advanced Encryption Standard - AES-256 Encryption to keep your data safe. AES-256 provides a vast number of encryptions a hacker would need to go through to access your data. This is what companies like your bank, Amazon, Microsoft, Dropbox, and the government used to keep your data safe. These companies have “zero-knowledge” of your passwords and your master password never leaves your device.
In addition, the password managers mentioned have undergone audits and code reviews. You are the only one with the password to the account. If you lose that password, you lose access to your account and all the information it contains. You can, however, set up emergency access in LastPass with the Premium and Families Plans. This feature gives one-time access to another LastPass user in the event of an emergency. Use a family member or trusted friend to help you recover your account. You control how long they would need to wait for access. See their website for full details.
1Password also has a recovery option to help you recover your account for your family or your team. They provide full details for setting this up on their website.
To learn more about these and other password tools, visit GetApp.com or Capterra.com for side-by-side feature comparisons, ratings, and reviews. This alternative is vastly superior to a word document kept on your computer or any of the other methods discussed earlier.
Need help? I am here, reach out so we can discuss the best solutions for your situation.
Judith Guertin is an Entrepreneur, Professional Organizer, Master Level Certified Productivity Specialist, and a distinguished writer. In 2021, she authored: Taming the Digital Tiger Gmail Edition with her mentor Barbara Hemphill. The book received acclaim by BookAuthority.org as the number one Gmail book for beginners. In 2022, she released her second book Beyond the Estate Plan – a resource guide inspired by her family's loss and her mother's wisdom to have her vital information well-prepared and easily accessible to her loved ones in the event of a dreadful situation. Judith is on a mission to give others the tools that make it possible to navigate the unexpected in an increasingly digital world. She is a former Registered Occupational Therapist and a self-proclaimed life learner. People who know her call her many things: a trainer, mentor, coach, and friend. Her greatest joy is helping others to live with peace of mind and a sense of control.
Judith currently resides in Massachusetts. She's celebrating 20 plus years as the owner of All Ways Organized. When she's not running her business, she spends her time providing productive environment training seminars, guest speaking, and serving as an active member of the New England Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers.
Beyond the Estate Plan is a comprehensive guidebook that helps individuals organize their estate planning documents, ensuring their loved ones have easy access to their vital information in the aftermath of an emergency, sudden illness, or death. People who purchase the book receive free entrance to an exclusive member community where important updates and expert advice are plentiful. The Beyond the Estate Plan Course affordably jumpstarts the planning process, while the learning center on the website is helpful to keeping current with the latest tips and trends.