The Basics of Good Passwords

In today’s electronically connected world information security is vital to our financial security both in the workplace and at home. This means we have to juggle multiple user names and passwords. Here are a few ideas on making your passwords hard to crack and easy to remember.

First – don’t make it obvious (like leaving the combination to your brief case as “0000”). “P@ssword” or “passw0rd” or even “p@ssw0rd567” will be guessed.

Second – don’t use words and numbers that are easily associated with you. If you were born in July of 1985 “0785” is a bad pin for your bank card. “julie0785” is and equally poor password for your online credit card accounts.

Third – Don’t share your passwords. Many hackers use social engineering to obtain access. Rather than trying to pick a lock they will ask for the key. This could be as simple as a phone call from someone claiming to be with your bank asking you to reset your password.

Fourth – Don’t make them all the same!

So what makes a password good?

One – use lengthy passwords.

And two – mix lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers and special characters. If my password is four characters long and contains only lower then there are 23,751 possible combinations. It won’t take long for a quickly written program to try 23,751 possibilities even if it has to wait 15 minutes after every three tries. If I include uppercase characters then the number of possibilities becomes 341,055. Make it an eight character password with upper case and lower case letter and the possible combinations increases to 2,217,471,389. Adding numbers and special characters only increases the possible combinations.

So how do I remember that password? Make it something you can remember. If my bank is Applewood State Bank then I might think “Applewood” is like “apple seed” like “Johnny Appleseed.” Then I might make my password “Johnny”. To make it more complex I can choose to replace the “o” with a zero, the “y” with an “i3” (using the 3 for the “e”) and capitalizing the “H”: “j0Hnni3”.

Pick simple substitutions.

Another trick is to pick the lyrics from a song. You can even use a song you don’t like. I’m not a fan of “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I could use the line “This could be heaven or this could be hell.” mangle it a little; “This could be Denver or this could be Cleveland.” (Sorry Cleveland, nothing personal) Take the first letter of each word, “tcbdotcbc”. Mangle that a little “tcbD0tcbC”.

A little imagination can make passwords easy. And, the only downside is that you may start typing numbers for characters.