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Passwords your first line of defense..

In our ever expanding digital world, increased personal and business computer security has become more and more important.  We do our banking, shopping, communicating, etc. online and the need to keep our information private has increased because the tools the bad guys use to infiltrate those services have also expanded.  The first line of our defense is our password, and the length, complexity, and turnover of these is absolutely needed today.  Let’s look at why these factors are so imperative.

The need to keep our passwords secure is important, but we need to be able to remember them.

Length.  This defines how long your password must be, and most systems today require at least a 7 character password.  The reason is simple mathematics.  In order for a brute force password cracker to work, it has to try every character in every position.  So, let’s say you have a simple number password, and you can have anywhere from 4 to 24 characters for this password.  If you password is only 4 characters long, that is only 10, 000 possible combinations.  That might seem like a lot to you and me, but to a computer, that is chump change.  On the flip side, let us say your password is 8 characters long.  The possible combinations is now at 100 million; far more daunting than 10,000.  Still, this is not too bad for a computer; and that is where complexity comes in.

Complexity.  This aspect determines how difficult your password is to make the detection even harder.  There are four pieces to the complexity of passwords, and not every system uses them all.  These pieces are upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters.  Together, along with the length, make passwords much more difficult to decipher.  Again, it is all about mathematics.  On a standard english keyboard, there are, of course, 26 letters.  Adding the dimension of upper and lower increases this to 52 characters.  Numbers bring the total to 62, and the special characters can increase that to over 90.  Now your 4 letter password would be over 65 millions possible combinations and the 8 character password would have over 4 quadrillion, or 1 million billion.  That’s a lot of combinations, but you cannot get complacent.

Turnover.  This signifies how often you have to change your password.  The reason for this is because things happen and your password can get out there without you being the only one complicit.  You might give your password to an assistant so they can get something off of your computer for you while you are out of the office.  Or you could have a keylogger virus that has cached your password and sent it to a hacker on the web.  Or, any other number of scenarios.  A good turnover, or expiration, of your password will help you minimize these momentary lapses in security.  a good rule of thumb is 45 days, but I have seen as few as 30 and as many as 90 days.  And don’t just put an incremental number at the end; change the password.  At any rate, you need to keep hackers guessing by changing your password often.

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Complex passwords you can remember

So, what can we do within these parameters to keep us secure but also help us to remember our passwords?  One thing you can do is use leet to hide your password choices and still remember them.  Leet is a way to mix special characters in with regular characters to make words complex but rememberable.  For instance, putting the “@” symbol in for an “a”, or an “!” in for an “i” or “l”.  You don’t have to prescribe to any one way, you can make it your own; just choose a random word you can remember.  An example would be “C@lcul@t0r”; this has all four complexities, is plenty long enough, and is easy to remember.

Now, remember, you don’t want to get complacent and use the same type of password or similar passwords that have personal meaning (always use car names or use the names of family and friends).  You want to use random words or words that no one would associate with you.  I find that just opening a news page online gives me plenty of words to use without having anything to do with me.   Also, you don’t want to use autofill on the computer you use regularly.  Not only is this a security note, but having to type your password in everyday means you will remember it if you are at another terminal you don’t normally use.

The need to keep our passwords secure is important, but we need to be able to remember them.  Understanding the rules of password complexity and use and joining that with a degree of ingenuity, we can maintain security as well as always have our passwords handy. And, don’t be afraid to pass this knowledge on to your friends and family; let’s make the world a safer place.