Proper Password Strength and Why it is Important.

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Proper password strength and why it is important.

Lets face it, no one likes trying to keep track of their passwords. Every time you sign up with a new online service, they want you to make a new password with numbers and letters and capitals and symbols, everything short of your left arm! It’s so annoying, right? Why do we have to do all of that for a simple little password? It’s no big deal, right? …. WRONG!! Proper passwords are incredibly important! Think of passwords like keys, you don’t just have one key for your car, house, office, boat and/or motorcycle you have one key for each. And think about the keys, they don’t just have one or two small simple ridges, they are more complex. If your lock could be opened by a simple skeleton key, it is very easy for someone to fake that key.

Why should I bother with a complicated password?

This is probably what a lot of you might be asking yourself right now. To understand this answer you need to understand a few of the ways that “hackers” and identity thieves work. The simplest method is called “Brute Force”. This method of hacking passwords consists of an automated program that simply tries passwords from a known list of the most common passwords. After this, it starts to run through all manner of words and phrases. So if your password is a simple word like “february” or “nebraska” its only a matter of time before the program gets to those single words. The longer and the more complicated you make a password, the longer it will take. Now theoretically any password can be cracked with enough time, but if your password is so complicated that it would take a million years for the program to crack it, you can rest assured that your information is safe. Click here for an online tool you can use to get an estimate of how long it would take to crack your password.

So what makes a strong password?

There are two main things to look for in a strong password – length and complexity. So even if you don’t want to use special characters and random capitalization, if you make a password that is several words long, it will take an exponentially longer amount of time to crack. If you then add into it the caps and symbols it takes even longer! Here are a few simple tricks you can use to make your passwords stronger.

  1. Substitute Letters for Symbols and/or Numbers – This is a simple way to use symbols and still have an easy to remember password. So instead of using the letter “a” use “@”, instead of “B” use “8”, instead of “I” use “1”. There are tons of substitutions you could use. “(@n y0u r3@d 7h1s?”
  2. Use Phrases Instead of Words – Phrases are much longer then single words (duh!), so they are harder to crack. Instead of using a word like “donkey” make it “the donkey is stubborn”. Still easy to remember but much harder to crack!
  3. Use Non-Standard Capitalization – This one can be a bit more difficult to remember, but if you make up your own rules for password capitalization and use them every time then it shouldn’t be to hard to remember it. For example, capitalize every other letter “lIkE tHiS” or just the second and second to last “lIke thIs”, whatever you like.

Lastly, and this is going to be the part where everyone goes “ugh! no way!”, DON’T USE THE SAME PASSWORD EVERYWHERE! (pause for outburst). If you use the same login information on every account, then once one is compromised they can all be compromised. What if your email is the first account to be compromised, then the hacker can see all the other services you are subscribed to. Now your bank accounts, credit cards, investment portfolios and everything else are at risk.

Is there an easier way?

So at this point most people are going to just say “Forget it! I can’t keep up with all this!” But don’t give up just yet. There is an answer to this problem that is pretty simple. There are applications out there for your computer called “password vaults” or “password managers”. These are local applications you install on your computer and they will create and manage very complicated passwords for all of your accounts. It’s very simple, for each of your accounts you would tell the application to create a unique login name and password. It will then create an insane random password that no one could ever possibly guess, would take millions of years to crack and you couldn’t possibly remember to save your life. It will store that password in a secure manner on your computer, and whenever you want to log into that account, you simply press a button and the program will input the correct information for you. Using this tool, you can keep all of your accounts safe and secure without the headache of trying to make up and remember a million passwords.


Tom Patch

I'm an IT consultant with 8 years of experience. Currently supporting consumers and small businesses in King and Pierce counties in Washington state. I can help with any general technological consulting, network administration and security, web development and hosting. Email - Blog -

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