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5 Tips For Protecting Your Password And Personal Information Online

Since "123456" is probably not the best password for securing your personal info, what makes a good one? And what does software security actually do? We brought in the professionals to make sure your information is locked down tight for the safest online surfing.

If you feel overwhelmed when it comes to all things internet, you're not alone. Sure, remembering a different password for your email, Facebook, bank account, and Netflix seems overwhelming. And who could actually remember something new for every different site? And let's not even start on purchasing security software—what does that even do anyway?

But let's be real: It's so important to protect your personal info online. For instance, last year Yahoo! discovered that a major cyber attack had occured in August 2013, with more than one billion user accounts being compromised—making this the largest breach ever. And if you have the same login info for your email and your credit card? Well, that's when things can get really sticky.

But that doesn't mean it's impossible to stay safe in the digital world. We caught up with Intel Security's Chief Consumer Security Evangelist Gary Davis and co-founder and CEO of Keeper Security Darren Guccione to talk about everything from creating a secure (and memorable) password to maintaining a smart online presence.

"More often than not, if you just take a couple seconds to think about something before you do it online, that's going to save a lot of challenges," Davis says. "Everything from how to properly engage with social media to not using the same password for your bank account that you're using for Facebook."

Here are five essential tips for staying safe while you surf the web, courtesy of the pros.

1. It's all about the passwords

If you tend to forget your password on the regular, you're not alone. In fact, Intel Security reports that 6.5 percent of people would give up pizza if they would never have to remember a password again. (Um, same.)

But passwords are so important. They are the entry to your most personal of information online, and complexity and diversity between sites is key. Take, for example, the five most common—and easily worst—passwords of 2015: 123456, password, 12345678, qwerty, and 12345. See the problem?

According to Intel Security, roughly 37 percent of consumers forget a password once a week, making it easy for us to want to take the obvious route when picking a password. But with security breaches regularly making the news, password creation is even more important now than ever.

"Every time there's a major breach—and you hear about them all the time—the top 10 passwords never change," Davis explains.

Updating your password regularly is essential. But what's the easiest way to know that the password you've created is secure? Try a "pass phrase" instead, which is similar to a password, but is generally longer for added security.

"One of the things we strongly encourage is using a 'pass phrase' because one of the things that consumers struggle with when using complex passwords is remembering them," Davis says. "If we encourage them to use a 'pass phrase' that includes something that they would easily recall, that is by far the best thing a consumer can do."

And if there is an option for two-factor authentication—do it. While it may seem like a hassle at the time, it is an easy and effective way to stop hackers before they can get close to any of your most valuable online info.

"The average consumer may not like it initially because it involves a second step," Guccione explains. "Your master password may be one factor, and then something else on you [...like] your fingerprint or a key FOB. This may be a little less convenient, but it adds a tremendous amount of additional security."

2. Manage your accounts like a pro

Okay, so keeping track of everything from passwords to account activity may sound like a lot of work—but it doesn't have to be. Things like a third-party password managers make it easier (and safer) for you to store your passwords, rather than trying to remember them, find them on the sticky note you hid from your roommates, or storing them in a Word doc. (Let's be real: Everyone's done one of these at some point.)

"The most sensible thing a consumer can do is use a password manager," Davis says. "Most password managers will automatically create a complex password for you, and you don't have to go through the hassle of trying to remember them."

As for managing your accounts, it's as simple as making it a part of your regular morning routine. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and check your accounts for any irregular activity while you're at it. It's a simple change, but it can be an important one.

3. Keep informed on what's happening on the web

Let's be real: We're hearing about password breaches all the time—we just never think it'll happen to us. "I think the biggest problem is that people never think they're going to be the one getting hacked, and unfortunately, it's not always about an individual getting hacked—it's about their login credentials or their personal identifiable information being stolen by a third party," Guccione explains. "It's a much bigger problem than what people realize."

Most recently, the Cloudflare leak affected such apps as Yelp, Uber, Patreon, and more. If you think your info might have been compromised in a massive breach, then it's up to you to take the first step in preventing further trouble.

"Take the time to be informed—[look up] the latest breaches and the things you can do to protect yourself," Davis says. "But also pause. Take the time before you click on something and ask, 'Is this really a site I should be going to? Does the email look suspicious?' That is going to go a long way toward making sure you're not a victim."

Of course, even the most cautious of internet users can end up getting hacked. So what do you do if that happens?

"First thing is: go change the password," Davis says. "If you hear of a breach, or you've seen something in your bank account or other suspicious activity, chances are that you've been a victim. So first and foremost, go change your password."

4. Give security software a try

While it's tempting to pick a new pair of shoes rather than fork over the cash for online protection, you may want to think twice. Software can do so much more than simply scan a computer for viruses. It can stray you away from sketchy sites, alert you when your info is in the wrong hands, and protect you from spammy emails—all of which are pretty important.

"The software we have today goes far beyond just scanning for malware," Davis says. "Most consumers think that it's just doing virus scanning, but really, software today does so much more than that. Everything from web reputation to protecting you from spam and phishing emails to establishing firewalls."

And beyond simple device protection, an identity protection service can help keep your personal information safe, which is just as valuable.

"I also encourage people to use an identity protection service, something that tracks not only your email, but other activities you may be involved with for suspicious engagement," Davis says. "Identity theft products surf what we call the dark web. So, if your email and password come up for sale on the dark web, then they'll flag you that it's been compromised and you can go change the password."

5. Above all: Think before you post or act online

This might seem obvious, but let's reiterate: Once something is posted online, then it's out there for good. "If a hacker is able to figure out your password for one website, they're going to figure out where you conduct and transact online by virtue of your social media presence," Guccione says.

And once you click on a suspicious link, there's no going back. Take a second to think through these decisions before you get into a sticky situation, and you will save plenty of time and effort in the long run.

Time for us to go update our passwords. What tips did you find most surprising?

Maggie Dickman

Maggie is a digital apprentice at Meredith Corporation. When she's not writing trending stories, you'll find her full on blasting One Direction, scanning through her favorite fashion blogs or hitting up any and every concert that passes through her home base of Des Moines.

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