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Tuesday, August 1, 2006
My Kingdom for a Password!

We struggle daily with the need to create, enter, remember, and store passwords. From the company network to the web and email or instant messenger systems, to blog sites and catalog ordering forms, we have to produce passwords. Someone wants to steal them!

That's the issue, of course. Those who know speak of using "strong" passwords. In fact, Microsoft allows administrators to create policies for Windows that require strong passwords.

The issue, of course, is what is a strong password. Apparently it must have length, must be somewhat random, must contain both upper and lower case characters, as well as special keys (!, @, ##, $, etc), and use numbers. Who will be able to remember the strong password they created?

That is the issue. People are predictable which allows hackers to create a set of test rules taking into account all of the above items. Presumably, we could all create strong passwords, but most of us would not remember them! So, if we write them down, someone in the office may steal them.

Depending upon our situations, this last issue may be the least important. As long as we do not keep them all in a file in our computer, the passwords may be safest if they are long, long, have a couple of odd characters and are written down so we remember them. We should know if we can trust those around us.

What brings all of this to mind is an article I found on the web concerning password myths (the article is here). It is an interesting read, and while it concerns only operating system passwords, it would apply to all of the secret words we need to browse the web.

The point of the article may just be informational, but by the time you finish reading it, you realize two factors:

First, given the inclination and time, almost any password can be broken so there shoud be some practical limits to how far you carry this idea of protecting your password.

Second, a few simple tricks will provide as much practical protection as you can get -- use long words, use both caps and lower cases, through in a couple of numbers in odd places, and use a couple of extra characters along the way. Replacing a 'o' with '0' may be obvious but replacing it with '()' or better yet somethng like '(0)' is moving towards very strong.

In the end, the real answer is don't create passwords on sites you are not familiar with; keep your computer protected as much as possible with the most modern anti-virus and spam software; do not share your password; be a little creative in making up your password to begin with.

Oh, yes, don't lay awake nights worrying about whether or not your password is strong enough. Sleep is more important.

Jim A


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