How Strong Is My Password?

Monday 04 Dec 2017 12 am

Let’s start by addressing the question in the headline: how strong is my password?

To do that, here’s another simple question for you: are you a “123456”?

I hope not, since that’d be far too easy.

No, you’re a little more cunning. Maybe you’re an “abc123”?

Or perhaps just your garden variety “dragon”?

If your password’s anything like those, you might be getting a sense of how strong your password really is.

In fact, those above examples were 3 of the most common passwords used in 2016.

You can find the full list on Wikipedia. Go on. Have a look through.

How strong is your password?

Are any you use in that “list of shame”?

Not all is lost if they are in there… it just means you just need this article more than ever!

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

We all get annoyed having to create or change passwords. After all, it should be easy in this day and age.

But no.

Those silly password prompts usually won’t accept anything less than:

  • A minimum of 8 characters
  • An uppercase character
  • A lowercase character
  • A number
  • A special character
  • Hopping around your desk 3 times in a counter-clockwise direction

And then, when we next go to use the new password, we can’t remember the damned combination.

Yes, password rage is a thing. An all too common thing.

And it’s no wonder we rage or ignore those warnings that gently remind us our password’s about to expire for as long as we can. Finally, when we have no choice (since whatever system we’re using won’t let us log in), we’ll just use the first thing that comes into our head that meets the bare minimum requirements.

When we can get away with it, some of us might even just unimaginatively mash the keyboard (did you notice “qwerty” and half a dozen versions of the “12345” theme in the list?).

Sometimes older technologies, like mobile one-time passwords can help save us from ourselves, but not a lot of sites and apps use them - and most of the time we can disable them (which we do, because who wants to deal with two passwords?).

It’s even more annoying to think that for future generations, passwords won’t be a problem. Technology’s slowly consigning the humble password to the dustbin with retina and fingerprint scanning coming into the mainstream, and facial recognition has left the realm of science-fiction to become a reality.

However, for us poor souls in the early 21st century, passwords are something we just have to deal with.

password-note.png

THE DAMAGE DONE

The thing is, without strong passwords - or worse, a really weak one (yeah, I’m pointing the finger at all the guys who thought “football” was fool-proof) - your digital life has a lot of vulnerable spots.

And we’re not necessarily talking about your login for “Socks R Us”. You probably don’t care too much if someone discovers you ordered the 6 pack of Hawaiian-themed dress socks last month.

But what about your Facebook account?

Facebook is something that more and more are using to sign into other accounts. If Facebook gets hacked, everything you log into using Facebook is also at risk.

And that’s just the start.

How about your bank accounts?

Or the online portal for your credit cards?

And what about your email?

Just like Facebook, email is a multiple access weak point. It often controls access to almost everything else you use online (especially things like password resets). If your email’s hacked, a host of different accounts can soon follow, with you none the wiser.

BUILD A BETTER, STRONGER PASSWORD

Well, let’s not let that happen.

These 3 strategies will make your passwords stronger and less vulnerable to being cracked.

Try not to reuse a password

Where possible, don’t reuse any password you’ve created. The more you reuse something, the greater the damage if it ever gets found out.

But if creating unique passwords for everything online is too much hassle (and I hear you), try to at least create unique passwords for your critical accounts, like email and online banking.

For those hardy souls who want a different password for the 2,398 different logins they have, why not use password management software like LastPass or DashLane? Safer than a notebook and a lot more convenient to use, these affordable applications have become popular solution to the “too many passwords” problems of late.

Don’t use personal details or common words

If you do nothing else, follow this advice.

Avoid using personal details like birthdays, pet names or nicknames in your passwords.

For anyone trying to crack your passwords, things like these are precisely what they start with.

The same rules goes for common words. As you’ve seen, words like “welcome”, “password” and even “sunshine” are basically invitations to log in to your account.

Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters

The easiest way to create a less crackable password?

Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Example: compare “special” with “Sp3c!4L” - which one are you more likely to get?

Ideally, you should be using a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters in every password you have - even if the system you’re doesn’t need you to.

The ideal password? A “non-word”, such as “E4Croi@aX9” is perfect. There’s almost no chance that anyone’s guessing that. Unfortunately, it’s also the perfect combination to induce password rage. That’s why the password management software mentioned earlier is a must if you use these types of password (and yes, you absolutely should).

* * *

Adopt these strategies and the next time you ask “how strong is my password?”, you won’t have to cringe with embarrassment as one (or more) of your passwords use appears in a list of shame.

And more importantly, you won’t have to worry about digital vulnerabilities from your weak passwords.