“Mom! My Instagram account just got hacked. Whoever took it over is sending all of these nasty photos to all of my friends. How could this have happened?” cried the girl.
The mother came over to her daughter and asked, “Well, let’s just see if we can’t get into your account and change the password to stop any further damage from occurring. What is your password?
The girl said, “Oh that’s easy to remember, it is ukwildcats . After my favorite basketball team. It is what I have been using on all my accounts.”
The mother’s face fell as she realized that all of her daughter’s online accounts were now vulnerable and all of them needed to be changed.
One area where many parents feel intimidated is trying to help their children to be safe online. It seems like the various technologies and websites are constantly changing. However, the use of passwords for online accounts has stayed relatively constant over time.
Learning how to create strong passwords that are difficult to break is relatively easy. The hard part is getting children to get into the habit of consistently creating strong and unique passwords for their various accounts. This is where parents can step in and help to greatly increase their children’s online safety.
The earlier parents can start children employing good password practices, the easier it will be to make it a habit. Even young children are required to have passwords for various learning programs that schools use. These early accounts are good opportunities to stress to children what makes a strong password.
A strong password should be unique and use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and other symbols found on the keyboard. A regular word should not be used as there are programs that can quickly try all of the words in the dictionary to crack a password.
Rather, children should use short phrases they know and substitute letters for numbers and symbols. An example of this would be to convert the phrase from red fish blue fish to r3Df1shb!U3f1sh. The converted phrase makes a strong password and yet can still be remembered fairly easily. The use of short phrases along with a letter substitution strategy is a recipe for strong passwords. Other strategies that can be used include spelling a word backwards and throwing in random uppercase letters,
Another strategy to make a password secure is to make sure it is at least 8 characters long. The password should also be unique for each account. This is difficult for many people to do but if a password fails, it makes all of that person’s accounts vulnerable.
All of those passwords can be difficult to remember, particularly as it is recommended that passwords should be changed on a regular basis. While not the most secure method, it can be ok to write the passwords down. Writing them down by hand and not labeling them as passwords can make them relatively safe as long as they are stored out of view from others.
Sharing passwords with other people makes the most secure passwords useless and is one of the most common ways that children’s accounts get broken into. Parents should stress that the only people that children should share their passwords with are their parents or teachers if it is a school account.
If children start early in using strong password practices, they will end up being much less likely to be in a situation like the girl at the beginning of this column. Parents can encourage children to use these practices and the parents should also use them themselves.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on July 5, 2015