How a strong password protects from data breaches

Setting a strong password can help protect from data breaches

Data breaches can happen to anyone but a strong password can help prevent it. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) explains how to create secure ones, so you and your family can stay safe and cyber secure.

What is cyber security?

We’re spending more time than ever online, from shopping and gaming, to streaming, banking and social media. In fact, the internet is such a fundamental part of modern life, that it’s difficult to imagine how we’d function without it.

Cyber security is all about:

  • taking steps to prevent cyber criminals getting hold of our online accounts and data
  • protecting the phones, tablets and laptops that we use to access them

Improving cyber security and reducing the chance of a data breach might include setting strong passwords, using anti-virus software or setting parental controls.

What is a data breach?

A data breach is when a cyber criminal gets unauthorised access to information, such as the huge amount of personal details that many organisations hold. Typically, criminals do this by using their technical skills to hack into the organisation’s computers or websites.

How might a data breach affect you or your child?

If a cyber criminal accesses your or your child’s details (which can include your email, address or date of birth), they can use it to create convincing phishing emails or scam text messages.

They may then send these to millions of people around the world to trick recipients into providing valuable information, such as their passwords. These scam messages and emails will typically contain links to fake websites that look genuine. However, these sites store your real details once you’ve typed them in. Additionally, these websites may also install viruses onto your computer, or steal any passwords you enter.

And it’s not just emails or texts. If the information stolen during the data breach includes phone numbers, you might receive a suspicious call from someone asking you for sensitive information (such as banking details or passwords) or for access to your computer.

Privacy and identity theft

Anybody’s identity can be stolen. See how to prevent it happening to your child.

Identity theft can happen through data breaches. Strong passwords can help.


The link between data breaches and passwords

If your details are stolen in a data breach, criminals will try and access your accounts by trying the really obvious passwords that millions of people use (such as 123456 or passw0rd). This is why it’s really important that you and your child’s online passwords are strong and secure. Weak passwords can be cracked in seconds. The longer and more unusual your password is, the harder it is for a cyber criminal to crack.

A lesson to help teach children in KS2 about strong passwordsTeach children about creating strong passwords with the Introduction to Protecting Personal Information Online from Digital Matters.


Helping your child create a strong password

As your child starts to create online accounts, it’s important they understand how to choose a strong password.

First, help them avoid the most common passwords that criminals can easily guess. For children, this might include a birthday, a favourite team or the name of a family member or pet. This kind of information may exist on social media or in other formats online, which means they are easy to find out.

A good way to help your child make a strong password difficult to crack is with three random words. Choose any three random words and put them together to create a single password. For example, ‘apple’, ‘nemo’ and ‘biro’ could become applenemobiro.

Because children may struggle to remember different passwords, they might use the same password across accounts. However, it’s important to use different passwords for every account. Of course most of us have lots of online accounts, so creating different passwords for all of them (and remembering them) may be difficult for children especially. However, to make this easier, you can:

  • write all their passwords on a piece of paper or in a notebook that is kept somewhere safe and away from devices
  • use a password manager on their device
  • allow your browser to save your passwords for you and your child – it’s safe for you to save them when you’re asked
You can save strong passwords to browsers for easy use

Browsers such as Safari and Chrome will ask before saving your password.

Warn against password sharing

As the name suggests, password sharing is when you share your password with someone else. For example, a child might share their passwords for school, video gaming or social media accounts with friends (or someone else online). However, this can lead to various problems with security and may go against the Terms of Use for many platforms.

Help children understand that it’s okay for them to share a password with a parent or trusted adult. For example, teachers may need to know their students’ passwords for platforms used at school. However, children should never share a password with friends or anyone online who claims to know them.

Organisations will also never ask for them to share their password via email or text message. Encourage them to talk to you if someone asks them for their password.

Other actions to keep your family safe online

  • The NCSC have created Cyber Sprinters, a series of online security resources for 7-11-year-olds. Teachers and parents can use the resources (which includes an online game) to help their children learn about cyber security
  • Explore the Privacy and Security topic in Digital Matters to help explore the topic of strong passwords with your child
  • If you’re a customer of an organisation that has suffered a data breach, you can read the NCSC’s guidance on steps to take following a data breach
  • For more advice on staying safe online, refer to the NCSC’s Cyber Aware website.
What is cyber security?

Learn how to enhance your family’s security online.

What is cybersecurity?

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