What Makes a Good Password?

December 8, 2008 | |

Security is an ever increasing concern in this day and age. As home computers get more and more powerful, password hacking is becoming more and more of an issue. The more varied the contents of your password, the less likely it is that someone can hack it. To undetstand this, it helps to understand some techniques people use to attempt to compromise your passwords.

Generally, password thieves will try to break into sites en masse using either unchanged dictionairy words, or combinations therof. Another technique is to try a set of standards (like admin, password, pass, etc) or something based on the domain (eg. if your domain is bobbleheads.com they might try bobble, bobblehead, etc).

What you need to do is add more to the mix. Take for example, an average password length: six characters. With just lowercase letters, your set is 26^6, or just about 309 million possibilities. That may seem like a very large number, but modern systems are capable of trying millions if not hundreds of millions of possibilities per second. Now, if you double that set by adding uppercase letters the number jumps to closer to 20 billion possibilities (52^6). Go one step further and add numbers to the mix and you’re looking at almost 57 billion possibilities. Again, these are all for just a six character long password. Increasing the length is another great way to increase the security.

Choosing a password using these secure options can come down to two basic methods.

  • Completely Random: Use something to generate a password for you (such as http://www.pctools.com/guides/password/)
  • Word Based: Start with a word you can remember, and replace a few characters with numbers and/or symbols. For example, if you think you’d have an easier time remembering a password if it was close to the word bagels, then maybe B@g3lS would be something that you could learn to remember without too much time/effort. That password is somewhere in the neighborhood of 280 trillion possibilities so for the most part no one would ever come close to compromising it.

Sean has been programming since first learning BASIC back in 1990. He has worked in the website development industry since its inception and has been working with IntuitSolutions since January 2006. Prepared for a career in systems administration by Drexel University, Sean is our Server Administrator and he works hard to make sure our equipment is efficient and reliable. He has been working with PHP and other powerful, web-friendly languages since the 90′s.

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