Securing your information with a strong password!

Choosing the right password is something that many people find difficult, there are so many things that require passwords these days that remembering them all can be a real problem. Perhaps because of this a lot of people choose their passwords very badly.

Basics

  • Use at least eight characters, the more characters the better really, but most people will find anything more than about 15 characters difficult to remember.
  • Use a random mixture of characters, upper and lowercase, numbers, punctuation, spaces and symbols.
  • Don’t use a word found in a dictionary, English or foreign.
  • Never use the same password twice.

Things to avoid

  • Don’t just add a single digit or symbol before or after a word. e.g. flower1
  • Don’t double up a single word. e.g. flowerflower
  • Don’t simply reverse a word. e.g. rewolf
  • Don’t just remove the vowels. e.g. flwrKey sequences that can easily be repeated. e.g. qwerty,asdf etc.
  • Don’t just garble letters, e.g. converting e to 3, L or i to 1, o to 0. as in z3r0-10v3

Tips

  • Choose a password that you can remember so that you don’t need to keep looking it up, this reduces the chance of somebody discovering where you have written it down.
  • Choose a password that you can type quickly, this reduces the chance of somebody discovering your password by looking over your shoulder.

Bad Passwords

  • Don’t use passwords based on personal information such as: name, nickname, birthdate, wife’s name, pets name, friend’s name, home town, phone number, social security number, car registration number, address etc. This includes using just part of your name, or part of your birthdate.
  • Don’t use passwords based on things located near you. Passwords such as computer, monitor, keyboard, telephone, printer, etc. are useless.
  • Don’t ever be tempted to use one of those oh so common passwords that are easy to remember but offer no security at all. e.g. password, letmein.
  • Never use a password based on your username, account name, computer name or email address.

Choosing a password

    • Use good password generator software.
    • Use the first letter of each word from a line of a song or poem.
    • Alternate between one consonant and one or two vowels to produce nonsense words. eg. taupouti.
    • Choose two short words and concatenate them together with a punctuation or symbol character between the words. eg. seat%tree

Changing your password

  • You should change your password regularly, I suggest once every couple of months is reasonable for most purposes. Sites like banks or email could be more often.
  • You should also change your password whenever you suspect that somebody knows it, or even that they may guess it, perhaps they stood behind you while you typed it in.
  • Remember, don’t reuse a password.

Protecting your password

  • Never store your password on your computer except in an encrypted form. Note that the password cache that comes with windows (.pwl files) is NOT secure, so whenever windows prompts you to Save password, don’t.
  • Don’t tell anyone your password, not even your system administrator. If they need your password to login, insist on logging in for them and just stay around just in case they need to login again.
  • Never send your password via email or other unsecured channel. If there is no way to avoid sending somebody your password, make sure you change it right after they are done.
  • Try to avoid writing down your password, but if you must write your password down but don’t leave the paper lying around, lock the paper away somewhere, preferably off-site and definitely under lock and key. You should really use a Password manager instead!
  • Be very careful when entering your password with somebody else in the same room.

Remembering your password

Remembering passwords is always difficult and because of this many people are tempted to write them down on bits of paper. As mentioned above this is a very bad idea. So what can you do?

  • Use a secure password manager, see the downloads page for a list of a few that won’t cost you anything.
  • Use a text file encrypted with a strong encryption utility.
  • Choose passwords that you find easier to remember, but is difficult for somebody else to guess.

Bad Examples

  • fred8 – Based on the users name, also the password is too short.
  • christine – The name of the users girlfriend, easy to guess
  • kciredref – The users’ name backwards
  • indescribable – Listed in a dictionary
  • iNdesCribaBle – Just adding random capitalisation doesn’t make it safe.
  • gandalf – Listed in word lists
  • zeolite – Listed in a geological dictionary
  • qwertyuiop – Listed in word lists
  • merde! – Listed in a foreign language dictionary

Good Examples

None of these good examples are actually good passwords, that’s because they’ve been published here and everybody knows them now, always choose your own password don’t just use somebody elses’.

  • mItWdOtW4Me – Monday is the worst day of the week for me.

How would a potential hacker get hold of my password anyway?

There are four main techniques hackers can use to get hold of your password:

  • Steal it. That means looking over your shoulder when you type it, or finding the paper where you wrote it down. This is probably the most common way passwords are compromised, thus its very important that if you do write your password down you keep the paper extremely safe. Also remember not to type in your password when somebody could be watching.
  • Guess it. It’s amazing how many people use a password based on information that can easily be guessed. Psychologists say that most men use 4 letter obscenities as passwords and most women use the names of their boyfriends, husbands or children.
  • A brute force attack. This is where every possible combination of letters, numbers and symbols in an attempt to guess the password. While this is an extremely labor intensive task, with modern fast processors and software tools this method is not to be underestimated. A Pentium 100 PC might typically be able to try 200,000 combinations every second this would mean that a 6 character password containing just upper and lower case characters could be guessed in only 27½ hours.
  • A dictionary attack. A more intelligent method than the brute force attack described above is the dictionary attack. This is where the combinations tried are first chosen from words available in a dictionary. Software tools are readily available that can try every word in a dictionary or word list or both until your password is found. Dictionaries with hundreds of thousands of words, as well as specialist, technical and foreign language dictionaries are available, as are lists of thousands of words that are often used as passwords such as qwerty, abcdef etc.

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