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Source: Security Focus

Let’s be honest, passwords are annoying. These days, we need a password or PIN everywhere. We have so many that we can’t keep track of them all. We forget to update them; and when we do, it’s difficult to come up with effective ones that we can still remember, so we procrastinate changing them for months, even years. We all know this is bad, but the alternative – the painful, irritating password creation and memorization process – is sometimes more than we can tolerate. There is hope! Passwords don’t have to be complex cryptograms. A few simple methods can help make living with passwords a little easier.

Do NOT use when choosing passwords

1. Dictionary Words

2. Proper Nouns, or Foreign Words

3. Personal Information

A strong, effective password requires a necessary degree of complexity. Three factors can help users to develop this complexity: length, width & depth. Length means that the longer a password, the more difficult it is to crack. Simply put, longer is better. Probability dictates that the longer a password the more difficult it will be to crack. It is generally recommended that passwords be between six and nine characters. Greater length is acceptable, as long as the operating system allows for it and the user can remember the password. However, shorter passwords should be avoided.

Width is a way of describing the different types of characters that are used. Don’t just consider the alphabet. There are also numbers and special characters like ‘%’, and in most operating systems, upper and lower case letters are also known as different characters. Windows, for example, is not always case sensitive. (This means it doesn’t know the difference between ‘A’ and ‘a’.) Some operating systems allow control characters, alt characters, and spaces to be used in passwords. As a general rule the following character sets should all be included in every password:

  • uppercase letters such as A, B, C;
  • lowercase letters such as a, b,c;
  • numerals such as 1, 2, 3;
  • special characters such as $, ?, &; and
  • alt characters such as µ, £, Æ. (Cliff)

Depth refers to choosing a password with a challenging meaning – something not easily guessable. Stop thinking in terms of passwords and start thinking in terms of phrases. “A good password is easy to remember, but hard to guess.” (Armstrong) The purpose of a mnemonic phrase is to allow the creation of a complex password that will not need to be written down. Examples of a mnemonic phrase may include a phrase spelled phonetically, such as ‘ImuKat!’ (instead of ‘I’m a cat!’) or the first letters of a memorable phrase such as ‘qbfjold*’ = “quick brown fox jumped over lazy dog.”

In order to ensure their ongoing effectiveness, passwords should be changed on a regular basis.

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