A Word on Passwords

posted Oct 30, 2015, 7:20 AM by Chris Cooney
The movie "Hackers" lied to you.


It's very likely you've been thinking about passwords wrong for years. 

A common tactic for most people when creating a password is to pick a word and to jumble it up. If, for example, I'm super into the Olympic sport of Curling, I might set my password as "CurL1ng99". Look at how clever I am! Nobody would be able to guess that password! A "1" instead of an "i"? And what about those random capital letters, and the "99"? Impenetrable. 

Oh so I'd think. I'm wrong. That's actually a rather easy password to crack... and an even easier password to forget. A year down the line, I might be thinking to myself "Dang, what was it? Curl1nG98? No... 89?..."

To help illustrate just how ineffective these types of passwords are, please refer to this comic:

Password Strength

"Hard for humans to remember, easy for computers to guess". Let that sink in.

It's important to remember that the purpose of a password is not to fool another human. Unless you outright tell someone your password, or write it down on a sticky note you mount on the screen, it's very unlikely they'll be able to just guess it on their own. However, rogue computer programs are working all the time to guess peoples' passwords, and its those programs that you're meant to foil by using secure passwords. So it's time to stop thinking in terms of passWORDS, and to start thinking in terms of passPHRASES.

As the comic demonstrated, the password "CurL1ng99" would take maybe a day or two for a rogue program to guess. The password"In1999CurlingWasAwesome" would take hundreds of years. Despite seeming more easily guessable, it is, in fact, more secure by a massive magnitude. 

Passphrases are also considerably more easy for folks to remember. They can be a selection of words that mean something to you. A particularly relevant latin phrase, a short motto, a favorite tongue twister. Whatever the combination of words might be, they should be unique and include sensible and easy to remember combinations of capital letters and numbers. A few examples might be:

SometimesBannanasSing5

KickTheBallBobby1

SlammaJammaInToledo22

Some simple combination of words that mean something to you that are easy to remember, and difficult for computers to guess. 
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