Despite a surge in brute force attacks attempting to break into financial accounts, simple yet savvy password security can help you lock down your personal information.
What’s in a password? You’ve been banking online long enough to know most financial institutions and online direct lenders require a password that’s at least eight characters long containing numbers, symbols, and letters.
But is that enough to protect your checking, line of credit, and online loan accounts? As brute force attacks skyrocket during the pandemic, this age-old advice needs an essential update.
Weak Passwords Are an Easy Mistake to Make Today
These days, financial decisions happen as fast as your Internet connection. While this rapid timeline can help you in an emergency — like when you need a fast cash loan — it can work against you when it comes to password security.
Why does this double-edged sword exist? When you apply for a fast cash loan online, you may not need to wait long to hear if you qualify. By then, you’re catapulted into the borrowing process, and you need to think of a password on the fly.
A lot of people crumble under that pressure, choosing a simple eight-character password they can easily remember. They may even fall back on the same password they use for every financial account.
Resorting to something like passwOrd1! may be enough to satisfy basic security standards, but it doesn’t stand a chance against a brute force attack.
What is a Brute Force Attack?
A brute force attack involves a hacker systematically guessing your login credentials. It’s a trial-by-error process that requires the hacker to input probable combinations until they get it right.
Think of it as the digital equivalent of trying to break into a combination lock when you don’t know the three-digit code.
In this situation, you would have to try out every single combination of each number, of which there are 1,000. It’s a boring and tedious project, but eventually you’ll crack it as long as you’re dedicated to the cause.
The math gets exponentially harder when it comes to the average password protecting a bank or online loan account. That’s why most hackers employ automated scripts or bots to tests the combinations at super-human speeds.
Automation makes this age-old hacking technique useful in the modern world. These bots can run-through possible passwords faster than any human could do by hand. One program can try about 350 billion guesses per second.
At this speed, it’s no wonder brute force attacks rose by 671% during the pandemic. They’re simple and promise results.
Why Do Hackers Use Brute Force Attacks?
Brute force attacks are easy to perpetrate, provided a hacker has the right tech as their aid. And when they work, they can give the keys to a lot of castles.
Fraud and Identity Theft
First and foremost, they’ll gain the login credentials to your account, and all that it entails.
Let’s look at the average online loan, as an example.
This account contains confidential information about the loan you took out. But more importantly, it also holds all the personal information you shared to be approved — things like your contact details, banking account numbers, employment history, and social security number.
With these things in hand, a hacker can commit identity theft and open payday loans or cash advances in your name.
While personal information is a hot commodity for fraudsters, there’s even more at stake if you’re using a SaaS or API tool.
Cracking this login information can give hackers remote access to your computer to uncover even more personal information to use or sell to third parties. They can also carryout DDoS attacks and spread other malware to your computer.
How Can You Protect Your Personal Information?
Strong passwords are at the heart of cybersecurity. Your choices when making an online loan or bank account can insulate you from brute force attacks.
Not sure what a strong password looks like? Here are some tried-and-test tips to keep hackers out of your accounts.
Use Special Characters
Numbers and special characters add layers to your password, making it more complex.
This technique may include basing your choice off leet speak, which is an early Internet language that replaces letters with numbers and symbols. Or you can simply add a string of numbers and symbols to the beginning, middle, or end of your password.
A password is easier to pry apart when you use predictable information. That means personal information should never inspire your password. Don’t use important dates, places, or names, even if you use leet to complicate them.
If you’re choosing a word-based password, pick a phrase connecting multiple uncommon words, like anthropomorphize capybara visceral.
In fact, the more random it is, the better. A completely arbitrary collection of lower- and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols is statistically harder to crack.
Keep it Long
Perhaps the most important feature of a password is length. Provided you follow all the other tips above, the longer your password is, the longer it takes to crack it.
According to Cloudflare, a website security company, a lengthy randomized password takes so long to crack by brute force, that makes it virtually impenetrable.
Compare Cloudflare’s data on how long it takes to hack these passwords below:
- 5-character password: 1 second
- 7-character password: 9 minutes
- 9-character password: 4.4 days
- 11-character password: 7.6 years
- 13-character password: 359,000 years
A brute force fraudster simply doesn’t have the time to tackle any password that exceeds 10 characters. If you use 13 random characters, there’s a good chance they’ll leave you alone for more vulnerable pray.
Don’t Reuse It
Admittedly, 13 characters of random numbers, letters, and symbols can be a challenge for your memory — especially now studies show the pandemic has affected our ability to remember. You might be tempted to use it more than once to get the most mileage out of it.
But even a strong password loses its efficacy the more you use it with the same email address. If one account gets exposed in a data breach, then all your accounts will be exposed as a result.
Brute force attacks are rising as the bots get faster at guessing passwords. Although bad passwords are one of the most common security weaknesses, not all passwords are easily to predict, even when it’s a computer program working at the speed of light.
A long, randomized password can withstand this attack, so remember this the next time you take out an online loan or open a bank account. Protecting your financial accounts with strong passwords will keep your personal information out of hackers’ hands.