If a cybercriminal guesses your password, or if they steal it, they’ll instantly gain access to your sensitive data. Historically, cybersecurity experts have recommended changing your password periodically to avoid this, but the modern consensus is that forced, routine password changes can do more harm than good.
How often should you update your passwords, and how should you update them?
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The Importance of Cybersecurity
Password management may seem like a trivial matter, but it’s an important component of your overall cybersecurity strategy – and cybersecurity is more important than ever. A single weak password, mismanaged security setting, or social engineering success could compromise your accounts and cause massive losses or damage.
In the business world, entrepreneurs often rely on the professional guidance of IT consultants and cybersecurity experts to mitigate these threats. But if you don’t have a cybersecurity consultant to audit your practices and make recommendations for better ones, you’ll eventually be on your own.
Fortunately, password management is one of the easier cybersecurity strategies to master.
The Pros and Cons of Changing Passwords
Before we get any further, let’s talk about the benefits and weaknesses of changing your passwords on a regular basis. Changing your password is an effective tool to combat the possibility of someone stealing or guessing your password.
Imagine this hypothetical scenario: your username and password are leaked and sold on the dark web. Now, some random cybercriminal in Russia has your information, along with the information of 500,000 other users. It’s only a matter of time before they use these credentials to cause damage. Changing your password proactively renders these credentials useless.
However, there are also some downsides of changing your passwords too frequently or unnecessarily. For example, researchers found that when consumers are prompted to change their passwords on a monthly basis or at a similarly frequent interval, they tend to repeat themselves, creating patterns where there weren’t patterns before.
Additionally, when users are fatigued by the annoyance of changing their passwords, they tend to choose weaker, easier-to-guess ones.
Choosing Strong Passwords
Changing passwords can be valuable, but it’s arguably much more important to choose strong passwords – even if you never change them. Strong passwords are much harder to brute force and much harder to guess, making them practically inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t have eyes on them.
What makes a password strong? Strong passwords have a mix of different characters, including uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. They’re also very long; in fact, the longer your password is, the more secure it is. Additionally, strong passwords are difficult to guess intuitively. They shouldn’t contain recognizable words or phrases.
When to Change Your Passwords
There are some situations that should prompt you to change your password immediately.
After a breach or security concern
If you’ve been notified that your login credentials were part of a recent data breach, or if you have a specific security concern about your password, you should change it. Occasionally, tech companies are made aware of vulnerabilities that expose sensitive information of their users. If you receive notification of such an event, you’ll likely be prompted to change your password immediately and should do so.
After recognizing a weak password
You should also change any password that you recognize is weak. Weak passwords are short, simple, and relatively easy to guess. For example, the password “pass1234” only has four characters, two types of characters, and both a recognizable word and a recognizable number pattern. It also happens to be one of the most common passwords used, along with close cousins like “password123.”
When changing authorizations or accessibility
Changing your password is appropriate when changing authorizations or accessibility; for example, if you previously shared an account with another person and you no longer want that user to have access, change the password.
After using an insecure network
It’s also prudent to change your password after using an unsecured network if you don’t have other protective measures in place.
After noticing malware
And, of course, you should always change your passwords if you notice any signs of malware. Some types of malware are designed to capture your inputs, so you should assume that the malware installer now has access to your keystrokes and personal data.
Otherwise, you can follow the general rule of changing your passwords once every three months.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Essentially, changing your passwords can be valuable in some situations, but it may not be necessary at all. It’s much more important for you to choose strong passwords, use different passwords for every login, and never give your password out to anyone. If you have any concerns about the integrity of your password, change it immediately; otherwise, you should only change your password occasionally, if you change it at all.
Joel is a whiz with computers. When he was just a youngster, he hacked into the school's computer system and changed all of the grades. He got away with it too - until he was caught by the vice-principal! Joel loves being involved in charities. He volunteers his time at the local soup kitchen and helps out at animal shelters whenever he can. He's a kind-hearted soul who just wants to make the world a better place.