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Every day we log on to Web sites -- some important ones -- by typing in passwords. But how strong are the passwords you use? How long would it take a skilled hacker to decipher your passwords and use them to log into the same Web sites with your information?

And if someone did this, what information would this hacker gain access to? Your bank account? Your Social Security number? Your home address?

Creating strong passwords is essential today. Unfortunately, too many computer users still rely on simplistic passwords, passwords that could take a savvy hacker minutes to unlock.

What are some of the bigger password mistakes people make? Too many will use a password that's too easy to guess. They'll enter the name of a child or a family pet. Maybe they'll use their name or type in the name of the street on which they live.

Others use the same password for every Web site they visit. Such a strategy is dangerous. If a cyber criminal determines that your password at one site is "fred1," there's nothing stopping this crook from using "fred1" to break into your online banking account. And that can lead to serious financial woes.

Do you need to boost your password strength? Here's some advice: Don't use passwords that people who know you could guess. And don't use passwords that are just a string of lowercase letters.

The more complex your passwords, the longer it will take hackers to decipher them. To create complex passwords, you should always make them eight characters or longer. They should contain a mix of letters, symbols and numbers. Use both capital and lowercase letters. A password of "herkyjerky" is far easier to crack than is "He3r4yJErk."

Of course, you might wonder how you are going to remember these passwords. You might need to write them down. But make sure that you keep your list of passwords in a safe location. Don't, for instance, keep your password list in the desk drawer immediately under your desktop computer.

You can also store your passwords with such password sites as 1Password and LastPass. These programs will help you generate strong passwords and then save them in files that only you can access. This way, you won't have to memorize dozens of complex passwords.

A final tip? Don't forget to change your passwords often. Even the strongest password can become dangerous if you rely on it for five years. Instead, change your passwords every three to six months. Changing passwords frequently will provide that extra bit of protection that you need today.

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