Recently I got an e-mail from Amazon telling me to change my password because someone out in cyberland was sending out spam e-mails using my address. I hastened to change it immediately; I'm sure we've all had this happen at least once, and possibly more than once. I've often wondered WHY people steal e-mails, but I never gave much thought to HOW they do it. The fact is, there is actual code-breaking software that people can use to figure out your passwords and hack into your online files.
This site reminds us that one should never use actual words for a password--they're easy to figure out. Also, it recommends that your password be longer rather than shorter, since shorter passwords, no matter how much you mix in letters, numbers and figures, are easier to decode than longer ones.
On this site, a real hacker talks about how easy it is to get your password. He points out that even though your bank password might be hard to get to, you probably use the same password for a lot of things (I've been guilty of this, mainly because I can't remember 90 different passwords). So, even though he can't hack into your bank file, he can go to something else that has less security--your online greeting card company, for example--and decode that password, then try it out on your more secure files.
He also suggests that a full 20 percent of people will use very predictable passwords--names of loved ones, dates of important events, names of pets, even the word "password." These, obviously, make a hacker's life easy.
It seems the best way to survive online hackers is to indulge a bit of paranoia--to set hacker traps in the form of inscrutable passwords, and to try not to repeat those words too often. It's good that Amazon warns us when our e-mail is being compromised, and that at this point changing a password can make that problem go away; but there are other things we have online that are not so easily remedied once they are hacked.
Make a hacker's life hard! Choose your passwords with care, and even though you love your cat Fluffy, don't let her be the reason that someone empties your bank account. :)