Simple passwords putting people at risk of hackers online

People are being warned against simple passwords. Picture: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
People are being warned against simple passwords. Picture: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
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Whatever you do, avoid the name of your pet, husband or wife, and be sure to turn your back on your favourite football team.

A leading online retailer has warned the public that commonly used passwords are so easily unpicked by hackers that they could be compromised in little more than the blink of an eye.

In a stark example of how many people rely on simple passwords that can be easily hacked, technology experts at AO.com said the ten most routinely used passwords in the UK over the past year would take criminals less than one second to crack.

They include basic numerical sequences such as ‘123456’ and ‘111111’ along with passwords like ‘qwerty’ - the keyboard layout used on everyday home computers and laptops.

The company, which compiled the list, said that while some people think they are safe using personal information such as the name of their partner, they are leaving themselves open to cyber criminals.

It pointed out that hackers predominantly target data such as dates of birth, the name of a pet, or the street someone grew up on, all of which can be extracted from social media profiles.

A spokesman for AO said there were a few ground rules that could prevent consumers from having their email, bank, and social media accounts compromised by hackers, such as choosing a password that is made up of three random, unrelated words.

He said: “A good example is ‘teabrownpicture’ and it would take 35,000 years to crack. Adding a number to the end of the three random words ups the ante to 227 million years.”

Citing advice issued as part of the Home Office’s Cyber Aware campaign, it also advised creating a foolproof cipher by incorporating symbols along with numbers and letters. For example, a password such as 3redhousemonkeys27! would flummox even seasoned hackers for around 220 trillion years.

The firm’s experts also advised that, while it may be tedious work and a test for the memory, it was important to have different passwords for important accounts, such as email and online banking, so that if one account is compromised, the others remain safe.