Password security tips: When and how to share them safely with loved ones

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We’re conditioned almost constantly to protect our passwords. Don’t write them down. Don’t store them in a Word doc on your desktop. Don’t share your password over the phone or by email. Don’t ever give your password to anyone under any circumstances. The gray area comes with whether to share your password with significant others.

Intel Security commissioned a survey of 2,507 adults aged 18-54, who are online and use Internet-connected devices in North America (US), Asia Pacific (Australia, Singapore), and Latin America (Brazil, Mexico). The results illustrate the varying opinions on just how much you should share with your spouse.

In the United States, 32 percent of the survey respondents said they know their significant other’s bank or credit card password(s). The Intel Security report doesn’t indicate whether that password knowledge was shared voluntarily by the other person, or known through other means.

The flip-side to this finding is that two-thirds of US adults apparently do not know the bank or credit card passwords for their significant other. That shows serious dedication to the idea of keeping passwords secret.

The survey also discovered, however, that other passwords are shared more readily. More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed in the United States, for instance, know their partner’s Facebook password (and vice versa). Just under half (46 percent) indicated they know their significant other’s email or PC password, and 45 percent reported knowing the other’s cell phone password.

The Intel Security survey also explored how couples communicate, and whether sensitive content is deleted once sent or viewed. Despite prominent scandals around nude selfies and the like, 28 percent of U.S. respondents surveyed did not delete personal data after sharing it with someone else.

Any time you share a password or anything else online, you increase the risk that it might be exposed or compromised. Michelle Dennedy of Intel Security offered some tips to help you protect your device and personal information:

Share with caution: Dennedy stresses that you should not share passwords with anyone—including a spouse or partner. If there is an actual need to share a password, she suggests creating a unique code just for that account and monitoring activity closely. Be prepared to change the code immediately if it appears to be compromised. 

Use a PIN to unlock your phone: Your smartphone or tablet contains all kinds of personal and sensitive information. Protect your mobile device with a PIN or passcode of some sort. Don’t choose a PIN that’s an easily guessed pattern or something easy to find out like your birth date. (Bonus tips: 9 other ways to lock down your phone.)

Delete, delete, delete: What you do with your nude selfies or other highly personal content is up to you—but keeping it, or sharing it with anyone, carries risk of embarrassing exposure. Dennedy advises, “If you send personal or intimate messages, make sure to delete the content from your device and in the cloud as soon as possible. It can save you damage control for your reputation later on, both online and offline.”

The Internet never forgets: There are two rules of communicating on the Internet: Be careful what you say in a public forum, and it’s all a public forum. Some sites and services are more secure than others, and you generally have some degree of control over who can view your posts. But all it takes is a screen capture to take a post away from your control. Dennedy cautions that you should be mindful of what you put out there. 

Dennedy’s advice is solid, but it closes off the ability of one significant other to step in if the other dies or becomes unable to manage online accounts. You have to find the balance between being vigilant about protecting your passwords and securing your online identity, and being honest and sharing with the most important people in your life.

One possible solution would be to use some sort of escrow service like Planned Departure. You can keep your passwords and information private while you’re alive, but let a trusted third party store them and provide them to your loved ones in the event of your death.

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