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Internet Privacy and Security

Internet Privacy and Security Activity: Keeping It Real (Secret): Creating Strong Passwords and Avoiding Tricks

Instructions for Your Students

Okay, so you digital information isn't private, right? Once you put something out there on the world wide wacky web, it's out there. For everyone to see. Forever. 

That's why it's important to know how to keep your private info private—and it's not nearly as totes obvi to do as you might think. But that's okay, because you're about to get a crash course in all the basics (and a few not-so-basics) that will help you keeping your private info under wraps. 

You'll learn how to create strong account passwords, avoid malware, manage your browser history, and check for secure sites. And to prove just how cyber-savvy you are, you'll develop your own list of policies for staying safe and secure online.

Step 1: Passwords are the first and most important gatekeepers of your personal information online, and you control your password, so you better make sure you've got a good one. The first step? Watch this YouTube video, "Passwords 101," in class.

Step 2: Follow up the video by talking about the questions below. As you and your classmates discuss #1, your teacher will record your answers on the board under the heading "Bad Passwords."

  1. What are some examples of bad passwords? Are any of your personal passwords weak like these?
  2. Why are these passwords unsafe? Why are they easy to hack? 
  3. Based on this video, do you think any of your personal passwords are strong?

Step 3: Now move on to brainstorming the characteristics of good passwords. Again, as you and your classmates volunteer your ideas about what makes a good password, your teacher will record these ideas on the board next to the "Bad Passwords" list, this time under the heading (you guessed it) "Good Passwords."

Step 4: Once you've created a strong password, you need to keep it secret. Sounds easy enough, but lots of people make classic mistakes (like writing their passwords on a sticky note and leaving it right next to—or even stuck on!—their computers.) Can you think of other password no-nos you should avoid? Talk it over with your classmates.

Step 5: Take a good look at the two lists on the board, the criteria for good and bad passwords. Use these lists to first create a list of 5–10 bad (or weak) passwords, a.k.a., ones that are easy to guess. You can do this part on your own, with a partner, or even in a small group. It doesn't really matter as long as you stop chatting and pay attention when your teacher asks you to. 

Once you have a list of bad passwords, volunteer a few of your ideas in a brief class discussion. Your teacher will write some of the best-worst passwords on the board. 

Step 6: Now, working on your own, try to come up with one good password that you will keep private. If you're having trouble coming up with something, check out our sample tip below.

Sample tip: One great idea for creating a really hard-to-guess password is to use the first letters from the words of a line from your favorite song. For example, take The Beatles' "Revolution." The line "You say you want a revolution" would give you "YSYWAR," and then you can combine that with other numbers, letters, and symbols. Just make sure you can remember your own password—and that you're not humming your favorite song at your desk all day. Now you try using this to create a good password: what would your secret tune be?

Step 7: Time for the moment of truth. Head on over to the Password Meter site to test how tough your unique password is. If it's weak, keep trying new possibilities until you settle on a good one. 

Step 8: Strong password? Check. Now let's move on to clearing your browser's history in order to maintain privacy. First, talk briefly with your class about why this is important. 

Some people have a "if you don't have anything to hide, it's not necessary" point of view when it comes to clearing their browser's histories, which we get. But think it over: anyone who uses a computer after you can see exactly what sites you've visited, which could tell them an awful lot about you. Additionally, they may be able to access personal information that you entered on these sites. 

That's why it's especially important to clear your browser history on public computers. Do you really want a record of your Internet travels easily accessible to any old creeper who uses the same computer?

For specific instructions on clearing histories on different browsers, check the following websites:

And remember: you should always sign out and/or log off when they leave a computer or email program or a social networking site.

Step 9: Okay. You have a strong password and you know how to clear your browser history. Now, let's talk viruses. 

The bummer here is that even if you're super careful with your passwords, there can be viruses lurking in the background that can compromise your online security.

In class, watch the video "Viruses, Worms and Trojans.. Oh my!" which explains these cyber bad guys work. 

Step 10: After the video, discuss the following questions with your class:

  1. What is malware, and what can malware be used to do? 
  2. How do Trojans trick users into downloading them? Do you think you've ever come across a Trojan?
  3. What's the scariest thing you learned about malware from this video?

Step 11: Take a few minutes to brainstorm some ways to avoid malware with your class. Make sure someone's taking notes (and take some notes yourself) so that everyone will remember the ideas you and your classmates generate.

Step 12: Assignment time! Show off what you've learned by creating a top 10 (or more) list of your own policies for staying safe and secure online. Be sure to use your own words for this (no copying and pasting from online lists, please) and yes, Internet slang and abbreves are okay. 

In fact, you should aim to make your list interesting enough to capture a reader's attention. That will help it to be a more effective (and useful) piece of informational writing. To that end, be sure to explain or define any slang or acronyms you use some point—possibly in an accompanying sidebar.

You can begin this list in class and finish it for homework (or in a future class session) if time runs out.