Victims of phone hacks were often using the default passcodes for their voicemail. (Chris Ratcliffe/BLOOMBERG)

As Jeremy Singer-Vine over at our sister site Slate pointed out, many of the “phone hacking” victims still had the default pin numbers such as “1111” as the passcode for their accounts.

That means those trying to get at e-mails didn’t even have to use tap into the phone networks — known as “phreaking” — to get at users’ phone information. They just had to pose as someone else to get the information they needed, a practice called “pretexting.”

Of course, that doesn’t excuse what News of the World and its private investigators have been accused of doing. But it’s a good reminder that it’s always worth it to take a couple of minutes to come up with your own code and not simply reenter the default code that came with your phone.

It’s true that PINs are a little trickier to be clever about, as you’re limited to four numbers. Here are some tips to make your passcode stronger:

1) Don’t use your birthday: Or part of your phone number, or your current address. That’s all information that is very easy to obtain, especially as people share more and more information over social networks.

Think slightly out of the box and you’ll probably come up with a better pin. Combine the birth years of your children, use the birthday of your best friend, or try your childhood address...backwards. The key is to make it easy for you to remember without making it easy for anyone else to remember.

2) Don’t disable the pin: I know. It’s annoying to type in your pin every time you want to check your voicemail, but it’s worth it to throw another hurdle in the way of an authorized party.

Remote access to voicemail is a fabulous thing, but without enabling the pin requirement, it can also leave your account ripe for the picking.

3) Do use the “word” method: Go old school, return to the days of touchtone phones — remember those? — and spell out a word with numbers. The iPhone has the letters on its phonepad, as do most Android phones. Again, it’s probably best not to pick your name or anything that could show up in a public record, but that still leaves you plenty to choose from.

You’re a bit out of luck if your cellphone doesn’t have the three-letter combinations listed on it, however. On my QWERTY keyboard phone, the numbers correspond to W, E, R, S, D, F, Z, X, and C...not the finest selection, in other words.

Do you have tips to building a good pin? Share it in the comments.

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