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Why Is It Important to Have Different Passwords on Different Accounts?

Is it safe to have the same password for all of my email accounts? If one has an account in Yahoo! mail, Gmail, Rediff mail, etc., and sets the same password for all of them, will it be easier for a hacker or phisher to find out about it?

Using different passwords is much safer than using one password everywhere. In fact, it’s critical.


Because hackers know that most people have more than one account and that most people don’t take the trouble to set different passwords.

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Admit it, you’re lazy

I’ll admit it: I’m lazy. When it comes to managing passwords, I’ll bet money that most people are.

One password everywhere is so much easier. It’s easier than even the easiest password management system.

It simplifies our lives not to have to remember passwords 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 know that people generally have more than one account.

Hacking a single account acts as a foot in the door to the others and leads to all sorts of mayhem.

One account leads to more

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.

Password Once they’ve breached one account, hackers get clues that let them access other accounts.

Account confirmations and notifications are frequently sent via email. What that means is that your hacked email account contains many clues as to what other accounts you have.

If you use the same password everywhere, it’s easy sailing for the hacker to quickly try those out and log in as you at multiple services.

For example, your Facebook login is your email address and a password. Well, if they’ve hacked your email account and you use the same password everywhere, they now know how to log in as you on Facebook.

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 you have online accounts. Let’s assume that the one with the poorest security gets hacked, and the contents of their entire username/password database is stolen.

You just got hacked, and it wasn’t your fault.

However: 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 take.

At a minimum, use unique passwords for your important accounts, like banking and other financially-related activities and email.

All of your email accounts are important, particularly if they can be used for password recovery on other accounts. All a hacker needs to do is hack your email account and 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 strongly object. “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. Who’s going to remember something like yFK86jk8q45B? (And no, that’s not it. I said something like that.)

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 1Password.

It creates a secure database 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.)

Password vaults ease 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.

They use strong encryption to keep your password database secure on your machine(s) and support synchronizing or accessing that database across multiple machines and mobile devices.

And they enable you to use different and strong passwords on every single site.

Do this

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17 comments on “Why Is It Important to Have Different Passwords on Different Accounts?”

  1. QUESTION for your experts:
    My PWs are in a 2007 Excel file which is encrypted (by Excel) and PW protected. Does this seem sufficient?
    (Excel encryption isn’t great but 2007 is better than prior versions.)

  2. As an alternative to LastPass, I use KeePass. (I tried both, and I preferred the latter.)

    I keep my KeePass database in my Dropbox, so I can access my passwords from pretty much anywhere: desktop, notebook, netbook, tablet, phone, …

  3. @Michael
    Excel password protection isn’t very good and is not difficult to crack. If you just have your passwords on your home desktop computer, that might be enough for you. Truecrypt of even an encrypted zip file is much more secure. If you continue to use the Excel file for your passwords, you might want to give it a name which doesn’t give away the fact that it holds your passwords.

  4. What will a hacker see if he somehow figures the password for my Roboform or Lastpass??

    I presently follow the rules for creating strong passwords, with something in each that links it in my mind to the specific site being accessed. I occasionally do mess up, but haven’t resorted to password storage yet.

  5. @Tony
    If someone gets or figures out your LastPass or RoboForm passwords, they have access to all of your stored passwords. So if you use those pick a long, strong password.

    • Okay. I’m using it now and I’ve discovered it is most safe to log out of Last Pass after logging in to the needed websites. That way any unauthorized person attempting to use the computer can’t access anything else other than what’s already open.

      Of course other security comes into play such as locking the computer when moving away from it.

  6. Thanks for another great article, Leo, although I have read it a few times before. The “Best of” is still the best of! Thanks for turning me on to LastPass a couple of years ago, it has come in extremely handy, and the only real problem is taking the time to go through the LP Vault every once in a while and clean out the old stuff I do not need or use anymore!

  7. I have the best solution (as far as I am concerned). I use a different password for everything and so I do not have to remember them, but I use an address book. I write down each place I have a password and do it in pencil so I can still change them when needed. I do this because I JUST DON’T trust the programs that will do it automatically.
    Also, written down in case a hard drive fails etc.
    One other good byproduct is that In my will, if anything happens, it’s divulged to my family where the passwords are so they can do what’s needed.

  8. On the same day this article pops up in my email, so does an email from the Canadian Post Office for their ePost service. They’re investigating a report that some customer information may have been compromised but they haven’t found any breach of their systems. They believe that the root of these reports is customers using the same login credentials that they used on other sites. Canada Post is forcing everyone to reset their password and choose a strong password that is different than any other password.

  9. I teach at a large public university so we are a state agency. Our IT department mandates that we use the same password for everything. In fact, the make it impossible to do anything else since you only enter the master password. So, I am forced to use the same password for…

    * Logging into my office computer
    * Logging into classroom computers
    * Logging into email
    * Logging into our learning management (online) platform
    * Logging into our system to enter grades
    * Logging into our payroll system
    * Logging into our benefits system

    and there are most likely things I have forgotten. They do the same thing to students.

    • The way I see it is that all of those are really only parts or functions of the same account located on a single central system.
      What really happen is that you log into your account from some computer, then, access the e-mail section, or the grading section, of the payroll section, or …

      ONE account, multiple functions.

      • That’s how it works at the University where I teach. One server, one login. Most of the services are accessed through the general site login. A few others like grade entry are on the same server and use the same password but require logging in directly, probably so the students cant get in if a teacher leaves a computer unattended. And our LMS is from a third party so it has a completely independent login.

  10. I was wondering why the service companies that use my e-mail address are constantly asking me for my password and asking me to change it. Can you explain?

    • Not completely, no. Some have policies that say passwords need to be changed every so often, some have detected breaches so they need everyone to change their passwords, some might notice odd activity on some accounts — without more data there’s no way to know for sure.


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