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No more 'pawswords': Why pet names shouldn't unlock your online accounts

Fri, 16th Apr 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Jingles. Bubbles. Arlo. Frankie. Buttercup. Those (and so many more) are all cute names for our beloved pets, but they're also common password choices too - and they're all terrible choices.

Recent statistics from the United Kingdom's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that a whopping 15% of people in Britain use their pet's name as a password for their accounts.

There are a lot of other unfortunate password choices: 14% of Britons use family members' names, 13% use an important or significant date, and 6% use the name of their favourite sports team.

“Using your pet's name as a password could make you an easy target for callous cybercriminals,” says NCSC director for policy and communications, Nicola Hudson.

New Zealand's CERT NZ has similar advice: “Details about you, like your date of birth, your address and even your pet's name are only a few clicks away. They're the first thing attackers check when they're trying to hack into other people's accounts. So, if you share pictures of your dog online, make sure you don't use your dog's name as your password too.

So it's clear - pet names are password no-nos. Sorry, Buttercup.

Instead of using pet names or sports teams, the UK's NCSC says that people should make passwords that include three random words.  

CERT NZ recommends adding one more word: “A string of four or more words is just as strong as a 10 character password that uses a mix of numbers, letters and symbols.

Another big issue is when people use the word ‘password' in their passwords. It's so easy for cybercriminals to crack these types of passwords through trial and error.

And because so many people are creating new password-protected accounts every year (some Britons create as many as 10 new accounts in a year), it is important that people do not use predictable passwords.

Here are some simple tips courtesy of the NCSC:

  • Use a strong and separate password for your email. If a hacker gets into your email, they could reset your other account passwords and access information you have saved about yourself or your business. Your email password should be strong and different to all your other passwords.
  • Create strong passwords using three random words - when you use different passwords for your important accounts, it can be hard to remember them all.
  • Do not use words that can be guessed (like your pet's name). You can include numbers and symbols if you need to. For example, “RedPantsTree4!”
  • Saving your passwords in your web browser will help you manage them and can protect you against some cybercrime, such as fake websites.
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