Those security questions you thought long and hard about that one day for that one site aren’t doing you any good.  In fact, they’re probably hurting you more than anything.  Because at the end of the day, tracking down your maiden name really isn’t all that hard and guessing your favorite food might only take one or two tries.

However, this doesn’t mean security questions should go away completely, and this certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to strengthen your online accounts… because they do.  You just have to find a way to answer those security questions in a different, more intelligent manner.

Here’s what we suggest.

Go ahead and use that 3 for the E.

When it comes to your actual password, replacing the letter E with a 3 isn’t as great an idea as people used to think it was.  Hackers automatically check for common letter replacements (like the @ for an A or an 8 for a B), which means it doesn’t make your account any less or more secure.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t try it out on your security questions.

The answers to your security questions should be truthful because you want to remember them later.  But at the same time, there are only so many truthful answers to a question – like what’s your favorite football team or where’d you grow up.  And because of this, it makes it really easy to guess security questions.  So to keep your answers truthful but hard to guess, mix things up a bit.

Here are a few examples:

  • What is your favorite color?
    • Turq-0is3-598
  • Where were you born?
    • B@k-3rs-fi3ld-598

Develop a strategy and then actually use it.

If you take a look at the examples above, you can pick apart a few common elements.  For starters, the words are separated by hyphens at each syllable.  All O’s, A’s, and E’s are replaced with a zero, at sign, or the number 3.  And lastly, the final hyphen concludes with the same number.  This can easily be called a strategy.

This strategy allows you to answer questions truthfully, but in a way that most hackers wouldn’t automatically check for.  Your strategy, however, can be anything.  Just make sure that whatever it is, it stays uniform throughout all of your online accounts.

Answer truthfully but don’t make things too cut and dry.

Like we’ve already mentioned a few times, you need to answer questions truthfully.  The minute you start randomly answering security questions will be the minute everything online starts to fall apart for you.  You’ll never remember your answers and because of this, it’ll be substantially more difficult to access an account.

You should also do your very best to keep these answers consistent.  For example, if you have two favorite football teams, don’t go back and forth between the two.  Pick one and stick with it.  The same can be said for your favorite food.  You might really love all sorts of food, but you can’t pick cheese for one, pizza for another, and burgers for the others.  Keep things consistent, and you’ll thank yourself for it later.