Digital banking is all the rage these days. A fingerprint logs you into your bank account, and one tap on your phone or computer handles any transaction. But as advances in technology continue to help more people manage their finances online, we must be more vigilant than ever to make sure our financial information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Most financial institutions have tools set up to keep customers protected, such as the use of a secure access code. Customers who are using an unregistered browser, for instance, are required to receive and confirm secure codes to access their bank accounts online. Still, there are steps people can take to add an extra layer of protection to their bank accounts, starting with the creation and management of passwords.

With this in mind, here are some basic dos and don’ts for creating strong and secure passwords.

Don’t make your password personal. You may instinctively lean toward something you can easily remember – like your pet’s name. But words and names that are personal to you are likely to be first on a hacker’s list because it’s easier than ever for hackers to find your personal interests and information.

Don’t use common words from the dictionary. Hackers use computer programs to guess millions of passwords in seconds. With that in mind, using common words – such as ‘love’ – puts your personal information at risk. Instead, select a complicated password that has multiple words and symbols. Or if you want to get creative, try an online password generator, which is designed to create complex passwords that are tough to crack.

Don’t reuse passwords. Many programs and apps require you to reset your password after a period of time, but don’t be tempted to reuse an old one. It’s always best to create new passwords from scratch and reset them every 90 days.

Do use acronyms for phrases you’ll remember. Let’s go back to our grade school days and recall the tricks our teachers taught us to remember information. For instance, you may remember thinking ‘ROY G. BIV’ in your head when reciting the colors of the rainbow. This is a great principle to follow when creating passwords, too. Using the first letter of each word in a phrase you can remember is difficult for cybercriminals to decipher.

Do include numbers and special characters. The more unpredictable your password is, the more protected you are. It’s always smart to use both lower and uppercase letters, along with special numbers and characters. But avoid obvious passwords, such as ‘12345678.’

Do create long passwords. Many websites require you to create passwords with a minimum of six to eight characters. Always try exceeding these minimum requirements. A password with 20 unique characters is harder to decode than one with eight. 

Security experts often recommend using a passphrase rather than a password. A passphrase is a string of words instead of just one word, typically ranging anywhere from four to 20 words. Strong passphrases include characters and spaces, too. 

As a final thought, avoid using public computers for online banking, in general. Expert hackers can find ways to record activity in a public setting, even if you log out completely. And “shoulder surfers” can easily peek at your screen and see your information. Simply put, just be smart and stay safe.

~ Teresa Grier is a market manager for Valley Bank in Alexander City. Contact Teresa by calling 256-329-7446 or stop by the Alexander City branch located at 4634 U.S. Highway 280.