7 tips for stronger passwords

7 tips for stronger passwords

The news that a Russian crime ring has stolen some 1.2 billion username and password combinations makes it more important than ever to take steps to protect yourself online.

Hold Security, which uncovered the data breach, called it "the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials" ever amassed. The firm did not publicly identify the websites that had been compromised. But with that many usernames and passwords in the hands of hackers, no one can assume their online accounts are safe.

Experts say there are a number of things consumers can do. Top of the list: "Change all passwords immediately," advised Adam Levin, chairman of identity theft protection and remediation firm IDT911.

And don't just swap one weak password for another. Changing "123456" (the most common password of 2013, according to SplashData) to "password" (the second most common) simply won't do the job.

There are more tips for better passwords below. But even if you follow all the recommended security practices, passwords can still be vulnerable.

"Creating a password, no matter how tricky and complex you think it is, is not something you can rely on to stop a very devoted hacker from getting to your data," warns Connie Guglielmo, editor-in-chief of CNET News.

Fortunately, there are some alternatives. A password manager such as LastPass or the 1Password app can help eliminate the chore of keeping track of a long list of complex (and easily forgettable) passwords.

"You log into the password manager, and then it auto-generates and creates and manages all the passwords for you," Guglielmo explains.

CNET's Sumi Das reports some tech companies are hard at work developing systems that could replace passwords completely using biometric technology.

Fingerprint scanners are already in use to unlock phones like the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5. A phone's camera could someday be used as a retinal scanner. And a Toronto-based firm called Bionym is developing a device that would use your heartbeat to unlock everything from your car to your computer.

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