What are login credentials? Tips for a secure login process

Yaron Dror

March 31, 2024

  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection
  • # Biometric Security

Every day, you access different accounts to send and receive all sorts of information — like banking profiles for financial transactions, social media platforms to stay in touch with loved ones, or email accounts to communicate with friends and colleagues. When you think of the data in those accounts, you likely wouldn’t want anyone else gaining access to that private information.

But if you use weak login credentials with your accounts, you could be leaving the door open to a data breach.

Having secure logins is vital to keeping your information safe from malicious hackers and cyber criminals. Here’s everything you need to know about login credentials to make sure yours are up to the task of maintaining your digital privacy.

How do login credentials work?

Your login credentials include identifiers, like usernames, passwords, and passphrases, that you use to access a system or account. When you enter your unique account credentials on a sign-in screen, whether to log into your computer or your online bank profile, the space or site you’re attempting to access checks the validity of those credentials. If you put in the correct identifiers, you’ll gain access. 

Usernames and passwords

Most sign-in screens ask you to enter a username and password login combination. Here’s how each of these parts function:

  • Username: This is a unique name you use to identify yourself in different systems and devices — like your email account, laptop, or Wi-Fi network. Some systems ask you to create a distinct username, while others ask you to use your email address or phone number to identify yourself instead. The latter option offers less privacy since anyone who knows your email or phone number could identify part of your login credentials.

  • Password: Every password is like a key that opens a door to a specific device, platform, or application. Passwords can include letters, numbers, and symbols — and the best ones use all three. Unlike usernames, which someone else might know or be able to guess, passwords are meant to be secret. This way, even if someone can guess your username, they’ll face more difficulty determining your password.

What are the main types of login credentials?

There are two primary types of login access: static and transient. 

  • Static credentials: This type of login access is always the same every time you sign in. Your username and password will not change from session to session unless you update them. 

  • Transient login credentials: Transient credentials use one-time passwords (OTPs), tokens, or codes at the start of each new session. When you access an account with this type of sign-in, you’ll typically receive a code through your phone, email, or a secure app. For instance, logging into your bank app might involve entering a single-use code you receive via email or SMS. These codes often expire quickly to prevent unauthorized access in case someone else gains access to your device or account with the code after it’s sent. So, even if someone has your username and password, they can't enter your account without the transient code.

Why are strong login credentials important?

Login credentials put a wall between your private information and any unauthorized party who might try to access it. The more complex you make your credentials, the less likely it is a hacker will be able to crack them. Should a cyber criminal get their hands on your login information, they could use the data to access your financial accounts, steal your identity, or even blackmail you. 

Potential threats to user credentials 

Your accounts are typically only as secure as your login credentials, meaning if you use weak passwords or easy-to-guess usernames, you could fall victim to a hacker who decodes your credentials. Here are a few ways someone might gain unauthorized access to this information:

  • Phishing: Phishing is a social engineering scam in which cyber criminals pretend to be someone they’re not to trick you into handing over private information. For example, a scammer might approach you via email or text pretending to be a customer service employee from a streaming service you subscribe to. With this disguise, they may say you need to urgently update your login credentials and share your sign-in information with them, which they’ll use to access your sensitive information.

  • Brute force attacks: In brute force attacks, cyber criminals try every possible username and password combination to guess yours and access private information.

  • Database hacks: Hackers could find a way to breach an organization’s database containing all their users’ login information. This would grant them access to a pool of potential cyber crime victims. 

  • Keylogging: Cyber criminals can leverage vulnerabilities in your device’s security to plant malware. Once in place, they’ll use this malicious software to track your keystrokes and record the characters you type when entering login credentials. 

These attacks can compromise your most sensitive data, unleashing severe consequences for your privacy and financial well-being. To prevent this unauthorized access, your best defense is to use secure login practices.

5 tips for securing your login credentials

With the risks and ensuing damage to your finances, credit, or reputation associated with a login vulnerability, it’s wise to take precautions when creating credentials. Here are four tips for generating strong passwords and usernames and keeping them safe.

  1. Avoid using personal information: One of the best tips for strong passwords is never using identifiers in a username or password, like your name, birth date, or address. The same applies to details about anyone close to you. Hackers can easily find this information on social media or through other online sources and try to guess your credentials with it.

  2. Don’t use easy-to-guess words: Avoid using common words in your usernames and passwords, even if it makes them easier to remember. For instance, using "password" is a common choice that hackers often try first. The simpler the terms, the easier it is for hackers to guess your login credentials.

  3. Use a combination of characters: Strong login credentials contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. They’re also sufficiently long — more than eight characters. Using a long password with a variety of characters makes it much more challenging for others to guess your password as opposed to logins that contain whole words, no special characters, and all lower or uppercase letters.  

  4. Use a password manager: Password managers store all your login information. This lets you create unique, complex passwords for each account without the need to memorize them. More secure managers encrypt all stored credentials, making them unreadable until you enter the main password to access the manager. Some services even encrypt this data from their own view, meaning the manager will never know your credentials. Of course, be cautious — if someone cracks your credentials to the password manager, your entire password library could be at risk.

  5. Update passwords: Update your passwords every few months or right after you suspect a login credential vulnerability. Changing passwords ensures that even people who’ve gained unauthorized access to your login credentials can’t continue to use them in the future. 

Diversify your security beyond usernames and passwords

Even the strongest usernames and passwords can have vulnerabilities, and persistent cyber criminals will stop at nothing to guess or hack login credentials. To prevent this, you can add another security dimension to your login processes, like an authentication layer or biometric recognition. 

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a solid option for adding another step to your sign-in procedure. This security measure requires users to provide two different verification factors, typically a password (something they know) and a temporary code sent to their phone or email (something they have), to access an account or system. For example, if you use 2FA for a social media app, once you plug in your username and password, the app may send you an SMS code that you would have to enter to access the account. 

You can also use multi-factor authentication (MFA), which takes the concept of 2FA and adds a third biometric layer. Biometric user authentication recognizes features of your body, like your face, retinas, or fingerprints, to unlock your accounts or devices. For instance, your phone may read your fingerprint or scan your face before letting you access the device. If you use IronVest, you can require biometric authentication for all your account logins, meaning that only your selfie will open these spaces. 

Protect your data with IronVest

Creating strong login credentials is like building a sturdy fortress for your online accounts. With additional safety features like 2FA and IronVest’s biometric authentication, you can ensure your personal information stays safely in your hands and away from even the toughest cyber intruders.  

But there’s still more you can do to safeguard your private data. With IronVest, you can also better protect yourself from phishing attempts by using masked email addresses and phone numbers. This way, hackers can never retrieve your real contact information. Plus, you can use a virtual credit card when shopping online instead of sharing your actual financial data with third parties. Get IronVest today to enjoy safer login practices and more robust security.

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