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Passwords in a Nutshell: a reminder of what you should know

Published March 24, 2012

Your password is your friend!

In order to be a good security device a password needs to be strong. What exactly is a “strong” password? A strong password is impossible to guess and very time-consuming to crack. Having a strong password doesn’t take any complex technology or advanced programing skills. And it has only three simple rules.

Rule #1: Make your password long and complex.
This makes the password hard to crack. (Remember that no password is impossible to crack. But if it takes, say, the CIA five years to crack yours, you’re probably pretty safe.) Now, bad guys have a number of ways to crack passwords, and you can’t protect your password completely from all of them. But it’s universally true that the longer and the more complex it is the harder a password is to crack. The idea is to make cracking your password so time-consuming that the hacker stops trying.

Remember the old joke about two friends running from a bear, and one turns to the other and says, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear; I just have to run faster than you.”? You just have to make your password harder to crack than the next guy’s. Heartless, but true.

The “long” part is simple. Make your password as long as the account will allow. With any luck that’s at least 15 characters. Sometimes accounts limit passwords to 8 or 12 characters. If 12 is all they’ll let you use, you don’t have a choice. But remember, a 12-character password is harder to crack than an 11-character one, so go for the limit.

“Complex” means don’t use a word you’ll find in the dictionary, or your birthdate. Don’t use your dog’s name. Or your boyfriend’s. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. The best technique is to develop a sentence, something like

He11o!Myn4meisIneg0Mo~t0ya (Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya).

See what we did there?

  • Exception to this rule
    You probably have many passwords and not all of them really need to be strong. But think about those accounts that you really want to keep secure: your email, your online banking or stock trading, your Facebook and Twitter accounts. For these accounts make your passwords as long and as complex as you can.

Rule #2: Keep your password private*.
That’s it. Simple. Don’t tell anyone your password. And if you need to write it down, try using one of the password manager programs for your computer or apps for your smart phone.
(*Kids, make sure you tell your password to your parents.)

Rule #3: Don’t use the same password everywhere.
Think about it: if a bad guy somehow gets your Facebook password, you don’t want him to have your email and banking passwords as well. So use different passwords for important accounts.

Now...everybody go and be safe! 

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