Password protected

By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Computer passwords.

They’ve become a part of every day life as computer technology continues to grow. Nearly every Web site requires a username and password to view some, if not all, of its content. Then there’s the bank or e-mail account.

Al Noblett, manager of an electronics store in Clovis, said he has at least 20 passwords.
“I suppose they are a necessary evil,” Noblett said. “I wish they could standardize it. I know they can’t, but it would be nice.”

Noblett said almost all his passwords are versions of an original password. But sometimes, password requirements force him to make something completely new.

Experts say too often computer users make life easy for computer hackers and identity thieves. They advise against using family or pet names, Social Security numbers or birthdays.

“We are finding out more and more that identity theft is happening from people that are close to you, who may know your mother’s maiden name,” according to Tami Nealy, director of communications for LifeLock, an identity theft prevention company. “So you want to make your passwords something very unique that will help protect you even further.”

Nealy suggested using an acronym, such as a phrase. To you, it stands for something. To an outside viewer, it’s gibberish.

While passwords are used primarily as a method to protect personal information, they serve another purpose, Nealy said.

“I believe it’s so (sites) can track how many unique people visiting a day so they can tell their marketing people, ‘we had 30,000, 40,000 unique hits, and we know these people. We had them create a username and password,’” Nealy said.

Not only do many sites require a password, many have strict requirements, causing people to have to be more random by adding characters and numbers. This makes it harder to be guessed, according to Tina Zachry, director of systems and networking at Clovis Community College.

“People were guessing passwords. If you add other things from your keyboard, it’s harder to guess,” said Zachry.

Having so many passwords forces people to write them down, which is how hackers get passwords, according to David Burch, a computer programmer with Clovis Community College’s Internet technologies department.

“At that point, it becomes human engineering. People will go through your trash, look through your papers, just to find your password,” Burch said.