Computer Ed Radio

Turning Geek speak into street speak

Choosing a Password


passwordEverything we do today seems to have some kind of password associated with, from our email and social media accounts to our banking, video services and even our computers. Passwords are becoming a way of life for us and our first line of defense in protecting our privacy. Yet with all the importance placed on our choice of passwords, people still skimp, cheat or use super simple solutions. We do not take the time to truly secure what we want secured. Lets face facts, most of us have crappy passwords and we need to do something about it.

This year on Computer Ed radio we are putting a bit more focus on protecting yourself online and what better place to start than with picking a good password. In fact this is the perfect time to pick a good password. Oh I know you already have passwords for the things you want to protect but Password 101 teaches us that we should change our passwords every so often to ensure our data is secure. The first of the year is a great time to do this.

Now before we begin lets look at why people have such poor password practices. You might think I am going to come up with a long list of reasons but you would be wrong, for 99% of us the reason for picking a simple password is easy. We are scared we will forget it. We pick a password because we want our lives to be easy so we pick what is quick and easy for us to remember and type. However I am going to give you some ideas to make picking a password that is easy to remember and secure easier.

Passwords for most of todays accounts can range from 8 to 20 letters. However do not stop there, learn to use the various special symbols as well as capitalization and numbers. This means we have a lot of potential options with our passwords.

The first step we need to take is to make sure we are not using simple passwords. By simple I mean obvious things like family names, various important dates, single words and so on. These are actually much easier to hack than you can possible imagine and a lot of the information needed to hack these can be very easy to find.

Look for a phrase, group of words and possibly numbers that might have a meaning to you that is very obscure or might even not be meaningful to you but easy for your to remember. For example lets say you are a Football fan and love the Bears we could create phrases around that to create a password.

For example we could use some reference to the Super Bowl Shuffle. Now the obvious would be to use the Super Bowl number or the year in the password. However what if we wanted to be a bit more obscure, say we use the creator’s name (Randy Weigand) and perhaps for our number we put in the number of loses the Bears had that season, 1.  I can already imagine a number of combinations off the top of my head. Including using info from the various players that participated.

We can make this more obscure however by shifting the focus from your favoritemaxinepassword teams to your arch rivals, the team you hate, in this example the Packers. Referencing their record that same year or maybe a well known player form that team, I could go obscure and reference Jim Zorn.

The point is that for a true Bears fan this kind of information is easy to remember and can create a fairly complex and obscure password. The idea is to find something you like and then use material from it you are will never forget. For example I am a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory. Now most people would think of think I would pick a character name or some catch phrase. What about though some great lines. Such as Raj saying, “We are lost boys” or Amy with, “gop roppy a top”? I recall these as well as other phrases because they just made me laugh so hard but they also make great passwords. With some character replacement and capitalization spread out these would be pretty obscure and hard to crack.

I hope you are starting to get the idea, find a scheme or theme that means something to you, has some place in your mind that it never leaves, this makes it much easier to create a password you do not forget. I know a person that creates every password based on the TV series The Seeker. By using various one liners, or obscure references that only a true fan of the series knows, she is able to create some really solid passwords. She then takes these and adds something personal to herself in real life. The result has been a pool of potential passwords she has pulled from for a few years and never once forgotten her password.

Now you will notice that I have only suggested ways to make it easy for you to remember the password, I have not talked about password managers. The reason why id this is because I do not trust them. If you have the program crash you suddenly do not have access to your passwords. If you use an online option that data comes under risk. Passwords are meant to be secret and personal, make them such to protect your accounts.

What about the new image password system that has been introduced in Windows 8. The idea sounds really cool so I decided to test it. I went to a local store and had a number of very nice people help me with my experiment. Using a touch screen devices and a keyboard moue setup I asked the people to pick from a group of pictures, a few landscapes, a few of what looks like a family, some sports, video games, a good solid mix. They picked a picture and then created the image password. Of 20 different people I was able to crack 18 within 5 minutes. The season for this is simple, people tend to respond to the same elements on a picture. There are always predominate elements that stand out and people will make use of these.  Of the 18 I was able to get 5 of them on the first try and 3 more on the second try. The system sounds really neat but does not secure you near as well as you think. Can it, sure it can but you have forgo human nature and work hard to be deliberately obscure. There is the advantage that you cannot use a computers processing to brute force out a password faster but I feel it is still offset by the easy with which a password can be predicted.

I hope you have found this brief article helpful and you will go into 2013 with a new, secure password. If you have some questions or ideas we would love to hear about them, post comments below, head over to our Facebook page or email your comments to us.

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January 12, 2013 - Posted by | Editorial, Informational | , ,

6 Comments »

  1. The reason we don’t use complex passwords is we need to many of them. My password has over 70 entries and doesn’t include everything. Even worse is the insistence of websites that you use your email address as your login ID (or to leave comments) which means someone only has to crack your email password then they can request and change any or all of your other passwords.

    Comment by ralph | January 12, 2013 | Reply

    • That is true but there are ways around it. For example I actually only have 5 passwords. Each password is used for certain things such as one for my bank account and other financial use, another for work and another for play, you get the idea. Within that base password I often have a couple of different variants to make sure hacking one does not automatically mean the other is hacked. This method allows me to have only a few passwords and thus easier to remember. To this I add the fact I change passwords often.

      Comment by Computer Ed | January 13, 2013 | Reply

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