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Passwords to Head Off the Hackers

New rules for an old problem: how to create a strong password

En español | Using their own ingenuity and automated programs that target thousands of computers simultaneously, hackers can quickly crack many simple passwords and break into online accounts. And once they sign in as you, they may change the password, locking you out of your own account.

One study finds that a successful hacking attack occurs about every 39 seconds. But in just a few seconds of your own, there are some ways you can strengthen your password for better online security.

12 is the new 8

As cyber crooks hone their skills, the traditional recommendation that passwords contain at least eight characters has changed. Passwords should now be at least 12 characters, say researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. In their tests, they learned that eight-character passwords can be cracked in about two hours, but adding just four additional keystrokes to a password could raise that to a theoretical 17,000 years.

Small tweaks, big results

Longer passwords are a good first step, but even more important is making each character count. And yet one recent survey found that half of 2,500 surveyed computer users never employ symbols such as &, >, # or @ in their passwords. Worse, many still only use lowercase letters or just add numbers at the end of words, such as the foolish and easily hacked "password123."

In one study, a British researcher noted that bolstering an all lowercase eight-character password with a few well-placed symbols, numbers and a combination of upper- and lowercase letters would take commercial hacking software about 200 years to crack.

Steps like these serve to blunt the hackers' software, which works by trying various versions of words in an English dictionary and even combinations of them.

Sometimes it can be easier to recall "harder" passwords. >>

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