On Sunday, December 12 2010, 1.3 million Gawker media accounts were hacked. Some of the information – emails and passwords – was released on the Internet.

Gawker has asked all its users to change their passwords. While this is certainly an inconvenience, the issue is far more serious for anyone who’s been lazy with their passwords.

Let’s face it – modern life demands that we use countless passwords. Our bank, online grocery shopping, social media sites, email, and many other sites are asking that we create an account and register with them prior to using their services. For many of these sites, it’s a great way to develop a huge email list for marketing purposes. Some demand that we register to avoid spam.

For us, as users, it means that the temptation to use a single user name and password across all accounts is huge. But as convenient as this might be, the recent Gawker Media fiasco demonstrates just how risky it can be. If you use the same user name/password combination across all your accounts, a hacker who hacks into one account gains access to all of them.

So what should you do? You can use password management software. If you prefer to manage your passwords by yourself, ideally you should have a separate password for each account. Keep those passwords written somewhere, but not stored on your computer.

If this is too much if a hassle, at the very least, you should create a separate password for each financial account. Never use the same password that you use on low-security social media sites, for example, for online banking. And if you have more than one online banking account, it’s best to use a different password for each of those accounts.

As for the passwords, do yourself a favor and – unless the account is of no importance to you – avoid the most common passwords that people tend to use– these include “123456,” “password,” “letmein” and more. The best passwords have at least 12 characters, are random (not a real word), and include a combination of lower and higher case letters and of special characters.

Password management is a big headache, but it’s part of modern life. Don’t be lazy with your passwords! The risk is simply too high.

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