What is a strong password?

by Sally on February 8, 2011

Back in my magazine editing days, I once needed a file on a colleague’s computer – but he wasn’t there. So I guessed his password. It was his daughter’s name.

One of my friends used to hack into her cheating boyfriend’s email to get the proof he was having an affair – his password was his dog’s name.  Another time, I worked with a client who used ‘qwerty’ as a password.

If you’re a blogger, it’s important to have a secure password to your blogging account – even if only because you’re legally responsible for everything that ends up on that blog.

So if you’re using your birthday, your child’s name, your pet’s name or similar then I wanted to tell you about how to make a STRONG password that you won’t forget easily.

First of all, think of a sentence or phrase that’s meaningful to you, and memorable. Let’s say you love a particular line of dialogue from Top Gun – and who doesn’t? “I feel the need, the need for speed.”

We can easily turn this line into a series of letters: iftntnfs

That’s good – but we can make it better still by turning the letters that are in the first half of the alphabet into capitals – mixing upper and lower case makes a password more secure. So we’d have:

IFtntnFs

That’s even better, but we can add another layer of complexity by turning some of those letters into numbers – so an ‘I’ can easily become a ‘1’ while an ‘s’ is a ‘5’

Now we have:

1FtntnF5

And just for good measure, we can add a character into this – I think Tom Cruise’s line deserves an exclamation point at the very least. So we end up with the following password, which is almost impossible for someone to guess, but at the same time, very easy to remember:

1FtntnF5!

Simple. Now there’s no excuse for your password to be ‘fluffy’. Is there?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Thornton February 8, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Good call, and something that is invaluable if you don’t want your computer or website comprimised.

It’s also useful to use that technique to create the ’stem’ of a password, and then to vary the other information around it, so that you’re not using the same secure password for multiple logins, which is a fairly common problem (Recent security issues affected the Gawker websites for example, and many sites then had to contact their users in case the usernames and passwords were common across multiple sites).

And the other thing to avoid is writing passwords etc down – particularly if you’re going to leave them on a post-it note beside your PC, or in a file on your desktop called ‘passwords’. If you’re really forgetful, and really, really need to write down your passwords, I’d suggest picking up a notebook from somewhere, and leaving it in a difference part of the house unless you actually need it at that moment…

Finally, the one thing I’ve heard about more and more is security issues affecting routers – so it’s also worth making sure that you change the default username and password as soon as you set-up a router.

Reply

Sally February 8, 2011 at 10:30 PM

I like the ’stem’ idea a lot – thanks, Dan.

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TheMadHouse February 8, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Having worked in a large software company, I am password obsesses. We had to change ours monthly and it had to have numbers, letters and characters in!

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baglet February 8, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Thanks Sally. Really useful. Any chance of one of your great psot on using pictures? Getting muddled over google, copyright etc! :(

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Sally February 8, 2011 at 10:30 PM

Can do!

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Alex February 9, 2011 at 7:53 AM

That’s exactly how I do it. For a while my remote desktop password was:

P1nkF10yd-Darks1d30fthem00n but I decided that was a little bit of overkill and went for something shorter :)

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Rosie Scribble February 9, 2011 at 10:47 AM

I like to throw in a dollar sign as I think it makes the password stronger.

Reply

Barenakedmummy February 12, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Yep, I agree with all the above.
I have several passwords for everything and they all have characters, numbers and letters in both small and capital.
BNM

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Alex August 31, 2011 at 1:16 PM

Interestingly I recently read a piece that said length of password is much more important than an alpha numeric one when it comes to brute force attacks:

http://xkcd.com/936/

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