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Why Strong Passwords Are Essential For Cyber Security

4th June 2024
Despite advancements in cyber security technology, passwords are still a critical element in safeguarding personal and professional data. But, not everyone takes password security seriously, and as a result cyber criminals are having a field day. So, in this blog post, we look into exactly why strong passwords are essential and some of the best ways to create strong passwords. We’ve also included a short story about the infamous Sony Hack of 2014 (a cyber attack that happened due to bad password security), and a list of 15 of the worst passwords used in 2024. -

Why Strong Passwords Matter

There are various reasons why strong passwords matter. Here are some of the main reasons.

Protection Against Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated and more frequent, with hackers using various techniques to breach systems and steal sensitive information. Weak passwords are an open invitation for cyber criminals, making it easier for them to gain unauthorized access to accounts. Strong passwords help mitigate this risk by making it significantly harder for attackers to crack them.

Safeguarding Personal Information

Our online accounts hold a treasure trove of personal information, including financial details, medical records, and personal communications. A strong password helps protect this sensitive information from being accessed by unauthorized individuals, thus preserving privacy and security.

Preventing Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious and growing problem. Once a hacker gains access to your personal information, they can impersonate you, make unauthorized purchases, and even commit crimes in your name, and strong passwords are a vital defence mechanism against these malicious activities.

Maintaining Professional Security

For businesses, the stakes are even higher. A security breach can lead to significant financial losses, legal repercussions, and damage to the company's reputation. Ensuring that employees use strong passwords is a crucial step in protecting corporate data and maintaining the trust of clients and partners.

How To Create Strong Passwords

Creating a strong password might seem daunting, but with the right approach, it can be straightforward. Here are some effective methods for generating strong passwords:

✔ Use a Password Manager

Password managers are tools designed to generate and store complex passwords securely. They can create unique passwords for each of your accounts, ensuring that you don’t have to remember them all. This reduces the risk of using weak or duplicate passwords across multiple platforms.

✔ Combine Random Words

One of the simplest methods to create a strong password is to combine unrelated words into a passphrase. For example, "SunshineRocketTiger!" is much harder to guess than a common word or phrase. Adding numbers and special characters can further enhance its strength.

✔ Use a Mix of Characters

Ensure your password includes a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. For example, "Tr3e!PlaNt$45" is significantly stronger than "treeplant". The varied character set increases the complexity, making it harder for hackers to crack.

✔ Length Matters

The longer the password, the harder it is to break. Aim for a minimum of 12 characters. Longer passwords are exponentially more difficult for brute-force attacks to succeed.

✔ Avoid Common Words and Patterns

Steer clear of easily guessable passwords like "password123" or "qwerty". Also, avoid using personal information such as birthdays or names, which can be easily obtained by determined hackers.

✔ Regularly Update Passwords

Regularly changing your passwords can further enhance security. Even the strongest password can be compromised over time, so updating them periodically adds an extra layer of protection.

✔ Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

While not a method for creating passwords per se, enabling 2FA adds an additional security layer. Even if your password is compromised, 2FA requires a second form of verification, making it much harder for attackers to gain access.

The Sony Hack 2014

One of the most infamous cyber attacks due to weak passwords occurred in 2014, targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment. This incident, widely known as the Sony Hack, was a significant wake-up call for the importance of strong passwords and robust cyber security measures.

Background

In late November 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment was hit by a devastating cyber attack. The hacker group, calling themselves the "Guardians of Peace," breached Sony's network and stole a massive amount of data. This data included unreleased films, confidential emails, employee information, financial records, and personal data of top executives.

How It Happened

One of the primary factors that facilitated the breach was the use of weak passwords. According to the investigation, many of Sony's internal systems were protected by easily guessable passwords like "password123" and "sony123." These weak passwords were likely exploited through basic brute force attacks, where hackers systematically attempt to guess passwords until they find the correct one.

The attackers used phishing emails and other social engineering techniques to gain initial access to Sony's network. Once inside, the weak password security allowed them to escalate their privileges and move laterally across the network, accessing more sensitive data.

Impact

The consequences of the Sony Hack were far-reaching and damaging and included:

  • Financial Loss: Sony suffered substantial financial losses due to the breach. The company had to spend millions on IT repairs, legal fees, and security enhancements.

  • Reputation Damage: The release of confidential emails and sensitive information caused significant embarrassment and reputational damage. The leaked emails revealed unflattering comments about movie stars and sensitive business plans, leading to public relations issues.

  • Personal Impact: Employees' personal information, including Social Security numbers and home addresses, was leaked, putting their privacy and security at risk.

Lessons Learned

The Sony Hack underscored several critical lessons in cyber security, including:

  • Password Strength: Using strong, unique passwords for all accounts is crucial. Passwords should be complex, including a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implementing MFA can add an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access.

  • Employee Training: Educating employees about phishing attacks and other social engineering techniques can help prevent initial breaches.

  • Regular Audits: Conducting regular security audits and assessments can help identify and mitigate vulnerabilities before attackers exploit them.

15 Worst Passwords of 2024

Below, we’ve included a list of 15 of the worst passwords people are still using in 2024. Check them out, and if you see your password we’d highly recommend using one of the methods listed above to change it to something stronger.

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 123456789
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 12345678
  7. abc123
  8. 111111
  9. password1
  10. 123123
  11. 987654321
  12. qwertyuiop
  13. 666666
  14. 1q2w3e4r
  15. 123qwe

Conclusion

Strong passwords are essential! They protect against unauthorized access, safeguard personal and professional information, and help prevent identity theft. By understanding the importance of strong passwords and using effective methods to create them, you can significantly enhance your online security.

Cyber Security Services Leighton Buzzard

Looking to improve cyber security strategy? Then contact JamCrackers, one of Leighton Buzzards leading cyber security specialists helping businesses of all types and sizes protect their networks from some of the world's most dangerous cyber threats.