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By: Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead

It’s no secret that malicious cyber activity costs businesses and the economy dearly. In fact, data hacks and breaches cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016. For small business, the cost and damage of a data hack can be irreversible.

A staggering 81% of company data breaches are due to poor passwords. The good news is that by taking some simple but effective precautions in relation to passwords, businesses can help protect themselves from the havoc and damage data breaches can cause.

Password Best Practices

Carry out the following 15 password best practices that will outwit hackers nearly every time.

Create A Strong Password

Strong passwords make it significantly more difficult for hackers to crack and break into systems. Strong passwords are considered over 8 characters in length and comprise of letters, numbers and symbols. They contain letters in both uppercase and lowercase.

Avoid Bunching Numbers and Symbols Together

One good password practice that often goes overlooked it to spread numbers and symbols throughout the password instead of bunching them together, which makes it easier for the password to be hacked.

Steer Clear from the Obvious

Having an ‘obvious’ password, such as 12345 or password1, makes it easy for hackers to compromise. Instead, come up with unique passwords that steer clear of personal information, like your date of birth or child’s name.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication can help keep accounts and data safe from hackers. This highly effective safety precaution measure requires you to input a PIN that gets sent to you via an email, SMS or app. Consequently, two-factor authentication protects from stolen passwords and prevents an external person from accessing systems and accounts.

Test Your Password

Ensure your password is strong by putting it through an online testing tool. Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center has a password testing tool to help businesses and individuals come up with passwords that are less likely to be hacked.

Refrain from Using Dictionary Words

Sophisticated hackers have programs that search through tens of thousands of dictionary words. Help prevent your business from being the victim of a dictionary attack program by avoiding using dictionary words. Instead opt for random passwords.

Don’t Make Passwords Too Long

Passwords that creep up to over ten characters can be painfully difficult to remember. Around 8 – 10 characters are considered optimum for password safety.

Use Different Passwords for Different Accounts

It can be tempting to use the same password for every account, so we don’t forget our passwords. However, this makes it easier for hackers to break into a multitude of accounts. Diversify your passwords by using a different password for every account.

Use a Password Manager

More and more businesses and professionals are using password managers as a means of practicing high levels of security and to help keep their sanity. With password managers, you only need remember one password, as the password manager stores and even create passwords for your different accounts, automatically signing you in when you log on.

Secure Your Mobile Phone

With the growing use of mobile phones to conduct business, shop and more, mobile devices are becoming a major cause of concern in the security community. Help protect your phone and other mobile devices from hackers by securing your phone with a strong password. Or, better still, use fingerprint or facial recognition passwords to help outwit hackers.

Change Passwords Regularly

It can also be tempting to keep the same old passwords for years, so you don’t end up forgetting it. However, changing passwords regularly is a good password practice to instil in your business’s security agenda to help outwit hackers.

Change Passwords When an Employer Leaves Your Business

Sadly, it is not uncommon for former, disgruntled employees to become your business’s worse enemy. Don’t let angry former employees hack into your business accounts and wreak havoc by making it common practice to change passwords when an employee leaves the company.

Stay Offline

Avoid having vital company security information plastered across the internet, making it easy for hackers to steal, by signing out of accounts when you’re not using them. Also, remove any permissions of applications when you have finished with them.

Avoid Storing Passwords

It might sound obvious but avoid storing passwords either digitally or on paper, as such information could be stolen by those with malicious motives.

Be Vigilant About Safety

No matter how strong your passwords are and meticulous about safety you are, passwords won’t be safe if a hacker’s spy program is monitoring what you enter on your keyboard. Make life as difficult as possible for cyber criminals by using an up-to-date virus scanner and making regular updates to your devices.