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Gentle January

Fake Your Answers to Security Questions

Why share any personal information if you don’t have to?

Digital illustration of the words “Gentle January” over a field of pixelated flowers; in the right-hand corner there is the number “19” placed on a stack of post-its
Gabriel Hongsdusit

The Gentle January series shares one practical privacy tip a day from a Markup staffer who actually uses the advice in their own life.

What’s your mother’s maiden name? What was the name of your first childhood pet? Occasionally you’ll have to answer questions like this to create a login with certain companies—in my experience it’s usually financial institutions and health care conglomerates.

The idea is that someone trying to break into your account by resetting your password wouldn’t know the answers to these personal questions.

That may be true—or not, if that hypothetical hacker can learn the answers from other sources. But one way to guarantee they won’t know the answers to these questions is if you make them up and save them in your password manager for future reference. As a bonus, you won’t be sharing details about your life that could end up getting exposed along with those of 35.8 million other people.

I recommend searching Duck Duck Go for “passphrase” or visiting to get easy-to-say but hard-to-guess candidates.

Then, confident in the knowledge that you’ve closed one potential avenue for leaking personal information, relax, call your mom (or Ms. Important Gem Pasta as your bank would call her), and ask her to give good ol’ Paradox Dropkick Neurotic a scratch behind the ears for you.

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