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Build a Better Password

Use these tricks to block the bad guys

password security

Alvaro Dominguez

Use these password tips to protect against even the most powerful hacks and scams.

En español

Think of a computer password as being a front door to your wealth and secrets. It can be made of flimsy wood or as impenetrable as a titanium bank vault. Here's how to best secure your fortress.

Use passphrases

Hackers use sophisticated software that can run millions of combinations of letters and symbols in a short time. Your defense: longer passwords. Former hacker Kevin Mitnick recommends 20 characters or longer. The trick: Use a sentence or phrase you create, such as "My Aunt Sylvia has loved me since I was a child." It's ultra-hard to hack but easy to remember. For even more security, add a number or symbol at the end, along with a capital letter or two.

Add a second door

Two-factor authentication services add an extra layer of security to your most vital digital accounts. You log in to an account using your usual password. Next, the two-factor authentication site sends your phone a six-digit code that you must enter before gaining access. For a list of websites that offer two-factor authentication, go to

Keep your passwords in a vault

Never store passwords in a file on your computer. Instead, use password manager apps that store passwords in a well-protected digital space. All you need is a master password to access the list. Popular versions that use cloud technology include LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password. Apps that put the vault on your hard drive include RoboForm, Password Safe or KeePass.

Refresh routinely

Once a year, change the passwords on all your important accounts. With hackers stealing data on millions of accounts at a time, this will help keep you protected if their focus turns toward you. Also change your password if you're notified by a website that its security has been breached.

Vary your passwords

That's the golden rule, cybersecurity experts say: Why let one key unlock every one of your digital doors?