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Passwords Made Easy

by Oct 25, 2018

Photo by disclosure.
Many of us grouse about how often we forget them. Some complain that we have too many of them. From our work computer, bank accounts, to social media accounts, and for some, even their thermostat or fridge need them. They are supposed to be secure. Each should be unique. All should be memorable. Yet, many use the same one across all these devices and services. For those who employ the one-for-all approach, it weakens things for the rest of us. Why? Just as the old saying goes, “An online service is only as strong as it’s weakest link”, or something like that.

It’s a constant struggle to secure our online life all-the-while, hackers diligently try to access the sites, services, and devices we use. The fulcrum to hackers access is the password. So how can we create passwords that meet the criteria of secure, unique, and memorable? Follow the simple tips in this guide and you will be well on your way to creating strong passwords that will help you create passwords that are complex, strong, and easy to remember.

Word Scramble

I call this “Word Scramble” because it best describes the process for making up the password. Word Scramble is not an official term. The idea here is to create a phrase comprised of six or more words made up of six or more characters. Think of it as a digital version of those fridge magnets of words you can jumble around to create a sentence.

There are any number of ways to build your phrase, but I recommend a ‘MadLibs’ style that constructs the phrase from random words.

Example

sixteen fleeting swallows hovering strangely overhead

According to my password generator app, this password would take more than one quintillion years to break.

We can then take this and make it even more complex by performing the replace a letter with a number trick.

This ‘trick’ is nothing more than using numbers to represent letters of similar shape. For example, using the number ‘3’ to replace an ‘E’, or ‘e’; the number ‘4’ to replace the letter ‘A’, or ‘a’; or the number ‘5’ to replace the letter ‘S’, or ‘s’. Here’s how this might look for our password.

Example

s1xt33n fl33t1ng sw4ll0ws h0v3r1ng str4ng3ly 0v3h34d

Want to increase the complexity without making difficult to remember? Easy. Let’s try replacing the spaces with dashes or ’em’ dashes.

s1xt33n—fl33t1ng—sw4ll0ws—h0v3r1ng—str4ng3ly—0v3h34d

Or maybe we have a thing for the percent sign. Here’s how our password looks with percent signs in place of the spaces:

s1xt33n%fl33t1ng%sw4ll0ws%h0v3r1ng%str4ng3ly%0v3h34d

We can increase the complexity even further with symbols to replace similar characters. Examples of this are replacing an ‘s’ with a ‘$’; an ‘i’ with an ‘!’; or an ‘a’ with an ‘@’. For this instance I have incorporated a single symbol, the dollar sign, for a single letter, the letter ‘s’, just to keep this simple. Now let’s see what we get.

Example

$1xt33n%fl33t1ng%$w4ll0w$%h0v3r1ng%$tr4ng3ly%0v3h34d

So as you can see, while we have a very complicated the password, yet all we really need to remember is the core phrase, that we’ve replace certain letters with numbers, others with a symbol, and finally, all spaces with the percent sign. But even foregoing the complexities, your core phrase is very complicated so long as the words are random and each is longer than six characters in length.

Apmuotfloew

First, Apmuotfloew’ is not a thing. I made this up. What is Ampuotflow? A phrase made up of the first letter of each word (see what I did there?) can be a terrific complex password that meets the secure, unique, and memorable. It is based on a phrase, quote, your favorite line from a song, poem, or some other memorable sentence. What we do to create our password is to take the first letter of each work and smash them into a single string.

Example

I am starting with the man in the mirror.

This is a line from a Michael Jackson song. Let’s take the first letter of each word to create our password.

Example

Iaswtmitm

(According to my password generator, this password could be cracked inside of a hour).

Pretty simple, right? It’s easy to remember so long as we remember the phrase, but yet it is considered complex because it is not based on a single dictionary word. But according to my password generator app, it would take a little under an hour to crack. So lets see if we can strengthen it.

In the ‘Word Scramble’ method, we introduced ways to complicate a string of random words into more and more complex strings (sorry, I just realized I’ve been using a technical term without providing meaning – String – noun, a group of characters made up of letters, numbers, symbols, and spaces). Well, we can incorporate these same variables into this format as well.

We can begin with swapping out letters with similarly shaped numbers…

Example

I45wtm1tm

With a subtle little change, we have increased the complexity but the strength remains about the same.

How can we make this even more difficult to hack? Let’s inject the second change we introduced above, replacing numbers with similarly shaped symbols.

Example

[email protected]$w+m!+m

This has certainly upgraded the complexity, but as well, it has increased the strength of the password so much that now it would take about a week to crack it.

Is there anyway to make it even stronger? Actually there is one simple thing you can do to increase the strength by a factor of almost 50. How? Adding a space anywhere into the password would take a hacker a little over a year to break it.

Example

[email protected]$w+m !+m

Now, what began as nothing more than the first letter of each word in the phrase, “I am starting with the man in the mirror”, which would take less than an hour to break has been strengthened to require more than a year to break. The best part is that it is still memorable as long as we remember the format we followed to create it.

In this case we started with a phrase, pulled out the first letter of each word to create a base password. We then can add numbers to replace letters, or jump straight to replace letter with similarly shaped symbols to increase complexity and strength.

Total Recall

Now that you have some simple tools for creating strong passwords, recalling them is whole other issue. For this I’ll employ Rule #1 of IT: Where you can, automate. Automating the task of storing and recalling our passwords is best done by software. The follow-up to this post will be on the topic of Password Managers. These are software and hardware that allow you to manage the massive digital keychains we all have.

We also have a Tutorial that walks you through the steps to setup an Administrator account for yourself so you have full control over your child’s computer. And if after reading this you find yourself needing more help, we offer One To Ones to help you.