Using different passwords is much safer than using one password everywhere. In fact, I’ll say it’s critical.
Because hackers know that most people don’t take the trouble to set that up.
And they know we typically have more than one account.
Admit it, you’re lazy
I’ll admit it: I’m lazy. And when it comes to trying to manage passwords, I’d bet money that most people are.
One password everywhere is so much easier. It’s easier than even the easiest password management system. It just is.
It makes our life easy not to have to remember or use any special tools to remember for us.
The problem is, it makes hackers’ lives easier too.
Hackers know we’re lazy
Hackers know that people find it easier to have one password everywhere.
Hackers also know that people generally have more than one account.
So hacking a single account can act as a foot in the door to the others, and lead to all sorts of mayhem.
One account leads to more
Quite often, it’s easy to guess that if a person logs in with username X and password Y on a system like Yahoo! mail, it’s likely they’ll replicate both username X and password Y on other services.
But by breaching one account, hackers get clues that lets them easily access other accounts.
For example, your Facebook login is your email address and some password. Well, if they’ve hacked your email address, and you use the same password everywhere, they now know how to log in as you on Facebook.
Account confirmations and notifications are also frequently sent via email. What that means is that your hacked email account might contain many clues as to what other accounts you have.
If you use the same password everywhere, it’s easy sailing for the hacker to then quickly try those out and log in as you all over.
The hack might not be your fault
Hacks happen through no fault of your own. You could be maintaining perfect security and still end up compromised.
Consider all the places where you have online accounts. Let’s assume that the one with the weakest, poorest security gets hacked, and the contents of their entire username/password database is stolen, with your information in it.
You just got hacked, and it wasn’t your fault.
If you’re using one password everywhere, the hackers now know it.
There can’t be only one
The bottom line is that using one password everywhere is a risk you shouldn’t allow.
At a minimum, use unique passwords for your important accounts, like banking and other financially-related activities.
Don’t forget that all of your email accounts are “important accounts”, particularly if they can be used for password recovery on other accounts. All a hacker need do is hack your email account, then run over to some other account and request a password reset to be emailed to the email account they now control.
Managing lots of passwords
Whenever I talk about giving each login a different, strong password, people object (often strongly): “This makes no sense at all, no way am I going to remember all those passwords, especially if you’re going to insist that they’re complex on top of everything else.”
You don’t have to.
For example, I don’t know my online banking password. I just don’t. Who’s going to remember something like yFK86jk8q45B? (And no, that’s not it, I said something like…).
Yet I use my account frequently.
Let your computer do the remembering for you.
I’m a big fan of password management programs, in particular LastPass.
It creates a secure databases of your login IDs and passwords, and stores them so that only you can get at them with your single, master password. (And yes, that password needs to be strong and memorable.)
It eases the entire process of logging in by filling in the user ID and password for you; you don’t even need to know what they are.
It uses strong encryption to keep your password database secure on your machine(s) and supports synchronizing or accessing that database across multiple machines and mobile devices.
And it enables you to use different and strong passwords on every site you care to use.
Originally published as Why Is It Important to Have Different Passwords on Different Accounts? on Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom has been programming computers since 1976, and answering questions about them online since 2003. For more, see askleo.com.