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How Easily Can Your PINs And Password Be Cracked?

Stories about cybercriminals and hackers stealing identities, revealing sensitive information and generally wreaking havoc on people's credit histories and lives are nothing new. While hackers have increased the sophistication of their tactics, a report from SplashData notes that they still prefer the easy route. Your passwords and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) may not be as clever or secure as you thought, so read on to learn about the Do's and Don'ts of login security.

In October, SplashData revealed its list of the worst passwords of 2012, gathered from files of stolen passwords that hackers had posted online. Topping the list were "password", "123456" and "12345678". Other combinations to round out the worst 25 for the year included "qwerty" and "password1".

It's not just online passwords that should be reviewed for security. Consumers should also make their bank PINs more difficult in the event their wallets and purses are lost or stolen.

Nick Berry, founder of technology consulting firm Data Genetics, explained that many people use the same passwords and PINs. Out of 3.4 million four-digit passwords that Berry analyzed, 11 percent were "1234", followed by "1111" (6 percent) and "0000" (2 percent), Yahoo! Finance reports.

Tips to Beef Up Your Codes and Passwords 

Don't use your own birth date or birth year. If your license is stolen with a bank card, it will be easy to figure out your PIN.  Berry's analysis reveals that all possible 19XX combinations were among the top 20 percent most-common PINs.

  • Don't use the same password for all of your accounts. It's better to have a unique password for your most important online accounts - email, bank and credit card websites, for example - so even if one password is cracked, your personal information is not completely exposed.
  • SplashData suggests encrypting your data and not leaving password lists in unsecured documents or on sticky notes.
  • Make sure your passwords have eight or more characters and use a mix of letters, numbers and other symbols.
  • When speaking with Yahoo! Finance, Berry also noted that common PIN combinations tend to use numbers that are close together, either in value or on the keypad. Don't choose a mix such as 45 or 12, or picking numbers in a straight line (like "2580"), Berry says. Instead, try to pick numbers far away from each other.  

Keep an Eye Out for Warning Signs

  • Checking bank and credit card statements on a regular basis can help you catch discrepancies early, potentially minimizing the damage of a cracked PIN or password.
  • You get three free credit reports a year. Use them. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are all required to provide consumers a free credit report annually, so you could check the history of accounts opened in your name every four months. Visit the government's website to learn more. By being proactive about managing your credit history, you can avoid unpleasant surprises the next time a bank or other entity runs a credit check on your name.
  • Although hackers and identity thieves are getting more high-tech in their approach, old-school tricks like planting card skimmers and cameras on public ATMs are still common. Shield the keypad from view when keying in your PIN and be aware if anything on the machine seems amiss.

In an age when consumers are increasingly going online to shop, conduct banking and other business transactions, online security is of the utmost importance. Using common sense and strengthening your PINs and passwords may not guarantee protection from identity theft and cybercrime, but it can make it much less likely to happen to you.

Contact your HUB broker for information on Identity Theft coverage.