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Is It Time For A New Password?

(from the 8/08 issue of the CompuNerds Nerdsletter - sign up for it here)

by Larry Spinak
As Featured On Ezine Articles

Is your password the name of one of your children, or of your pet? Perhaps it's your birthday, or maybe your birthday backwards, you sly dog! Is it 123456? abc123? A favorite band, movie character or sports team? Is it the word, "password" ?

Passwords are used to protect information. Since so much information passes back and forth on the internet, and since more and more of it is private, we require more and more passwords. It's hard to keep track of them all, and the temptation is to just use the same password over and over for everything. The problem with this is that if somebody cracks that one password, they'll have access to EVERYTHING.

A good password should be difficult or impossible to guess. It should be at least eight characters long. You shouldn't use real words, because believe it or not, it is a simple matter for a hacker to go through all the words in the dictionary. They employ specialized software that helps them to crack passwords. The best passwords are random combinations of numbers and letters. The longer the combo, the harder it is to crack. It will take about 243 days to crack an eight character random password with an average computer. If you vary between upper and lower case, you will make your password even stronger.

You should probably change your passwords every 3 to 6 months.

It isn't easy to come up with really random combinations of letters and numbers, and even if you do, they're difficult to remember. Here's a trick for making strong passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember:

Think of a line from a song, or a poem, or a saying, etc., and use the first letter from each word. As an example, let's try Robert Frost's Road Not Taken:

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…"

If we take the first letter from each word, we get: trdiayw. That looks pretty random.

Let's capitalize a few of the letters: trDiayW. Wow, now we're looking really random.

Let's throw in a few numbers to make the password super-strong: trD83iay4W2.

Now that's a password! It's 11 characters long, it looks like gibberish and won't be found in any dictionary. It has a good mixture of upper and lower case letters, and it has a few numbers mixed in.

More examples (just the letters, without adding numbers and changing the case):

  • JSCENFAHWCENL: Jack Sprat Could Eat No Fat And His Wife Could Eat No Lean
  • ECGAHIRDTSTW: East Coast Girls Are Hip I Really Dig Those Styles They Wear
  • 4OO5DSPT: Four Out of Five Dentists Surveyed Prefer Trident
  • OYCPFF: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

You get the idea. Once you've thought of your phrase, don't forget to vary between upper and lowercase, and to throw some numbers in. Microsoft has a password checker. You put in your password and they'll tell you how strong it is. It can be found here:

Of course it's important to keep track your passwords. If you write them down, don't hide them in your desk drawer or tape them to the underside of the drawer. Hackers know to look there. Some people create one file where they keep track of all their passwords. If you do this, make sure you password protect that file too!

To assign a password to a document in Word, go under the "Tools" menu and choose "Options" and then click on the "Security" tab. From there, you can assign a password to a Word document. Different versions of the program might behave differently, but in all cases, you can find the password function by going to the help file.

Check your passwords today and see if it's time for an upgrade!


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