Password Pandemonium

by Michael on November 13th, 2006 in Industry and Security News.

We use passwords for everything: logging on to our computers, using our cell phones, doing our banking, accessing our online accounts...

Here's some food for thought: which came first, the proliferation of passwords to secure our technology-centered lives, or the rampant use of little yellow Post-it notes, cluttering all of our desktops or jammed into our wallets?

Maybe we'll never know for sure, but what we do know is that passwords are one of the most basic forms of computer security. Developing strong ones is a necessary way to protect your information, but exactly how to do this is up for debate.

Should we create strong, complicated passwords that we can't remember, but need to write down - whether it's stored on paper or electronically - widening the security risk of them being accessed by another party? Or should we use passwords that are simple enough that we can commit them to memory, but increasing the risk that they can be more easily cracked?

There's no precise method to tell us exactly how to create good passwords. Some basic tips from the pros include the following:

  • Do not use words that are found in a dictionary.
  • Mix characters and numbers.
  • Do not use numbers related to your birthday or Social Security number.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts that involve monetary transactions.
  • Change your passwords regularly.

And the biggest tip of all- try to commit them to memory!

Of course, there are other technological shortcuts available, like biometrics, smartcards, and even password management software. But for most of us, remembering a few passwords is still the answer. So we're stuck with trying to find ones that work for us.

At least if you're a regular PC user, you can feel grateful about one thing- not being an IT administrator. Word has it that they have to remember upwards of 100 passwords. Imagine the size of that sticky note!