These days, you need a password to do just about anything online. And, with so many sites now requiring passwords for various accounts, the ubiquity of passwords has, to some degree, actually eroded the very protections they were meant to provide in the first place.
Since few (if any) human beings possess the capability to correctly memorize 40+ passwords, we now live in a world in which most people re-use passwords for various sites or, even worse, create simpler passwords that are easier to remember. It’s important to remember that, if it’s simpler for you, it’s simpler for other people, too.
Creating strong passwords that are hard to crack
I’m not sure why we let children play a game so gruesomely referred to as “Hangman,” but if you’ve ever played, you know that—depending on your role—there are two clearly identifiable objectives.
If your job is to guess the mystery word, the goal is to correctly reveal the word with as few guesses as possible, thus sparing the life of the man hanging with the noose around his neck. And, if you’re the game organizer, you try to pick the word that will prove the most difficult to guess. Picking an online password works in a similar fashion.
While we’re on the subject, perhaps, given all the security breaches in the news recently, we should rename the game to “Hacker.” I’m just saying.
Believe it or not, a strong password presents extra obstacles that make it much more difficult for a would-be hacker to gain access to your online account information. But, these days, with hackers utilizing more advanced technologies, we should instead begin to think of our “passwords” as “passphrases.”
I can hardly remember a password. How am I going to remember an entire phrase?
Initially, trading out your 8 character password for a 22 character phrase will seem a little overwhelming. And yes, even with a passphrase, you still won’t be completely immune from the threat of being hacked, but the added level of security is significant enough for you to consider a password lifestyle change.
So, what makes a good passphrase? Ideally, you should strive for more than 14 characters, including both letters, numbers, and, if you’re feeling really audacious, special characters.
For example, let’s assume that you just happen to be a fan of the defending Big 12 champion Baylor Bears. And, ever since Art Briles and company claimed their first Big 12 title, you’ve been using “BaylorBig12″ as your password. If you wanted to convert that same thought into a passphrase, you might consider going with “BaylorWonTheBig12in2013” or “BrycePetty4Hei$manIn2014.”
I know not everyone is a Baylor enthusiast, so one other tip is to think of a phrase that you easily identify with the company. So, if it’s a bank that you’re creating a password for, you might go with something like “LindaIsMyFavoriteTeller” or “IStartedBankingHereIn1999.”
So, the important thing is not necessarily to have an over-the-top complicated passphrase, but to create a long passphrase that you can easily remember.
Now, some sites have a maximum number of characters you can use for a password. If you should encounter a site that keeps you from using a lengthy phrase, you might then want to abbreviate the phrase by using the first letter of each word. In this instance, “BrycePetty4Hei$manIn2014” would become “Bp4hi2014.”
Realistically protecting your login information in today’s world
Truth be told, I’m not naïve enough to believe that—even if you intently read every word of this article—you’re suddenly going to stop using the same password for multiple sites and start using Baylor-themed passphrases for everything.
So, what I would suggest is that you start giving passphrases a try. I think you’ll find that they’re actually much easier to remember than you might think. And, unlike with a shorter password, just because a passphrase is easier for you, it doesn’t mean it’s easier for a hacker, too.
About the Author:
Rusty Haferkamp is the chief information officer for Central National Bank. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors, hunting, fishing, and spending time with his wife and two young daughters.