Remember your password!

Published on Sunday, January 29, 2012 in , ,

Rich McNabb's login screen designIt wasn't that long ago when remembering passwords was a problem most people only ran across in spy movies.

These days, with various assorted internet accounts everywhere, remembering your password, as well as making it difficult to figure out, is becoming more and more of a challenge. Fortunately, there are many memory techniques that can help.

The first rule of internet security is that you can never reach a level where you are absolutely secure. All you can ever do is decrease your risk of a breach.

Last August, XKCD put the problem into an amusing and accurate perspective:

Yes, you've probably often heard that using regular words all in lower case is a bad idea. However, that advice generally refers to using a single regular word. A longer password comprised of multiple words isn't found in any dictionary, and the length alone make it harder to achieve through sheer guessing.

The "bits of entropy" referred to in the above cartoon can be thought of as a way to score the difficulty of uncovering a password. The following Wolfram|Alpha widget accepts a given length of password, and will then generate a password of that length, as well as how long passwords of that type would take to crack:

The XKCD password above, "correcthorsebatterystaple", is 25 characters long. Try putting in 25 and see how long Wolfram|Alpha thinks that would take to crack!

If everyone used that exact phrase, however, it would become well known, and thus easier to discover. Fortunately, the comic inspired this password generator, so you can get your own unique phrase.

While passwords of this type are a good idea, they're unfortunately not always possible to use. Strangely, there are many places that limit your character range and password length. Obviously, maximizing the mixture of digits and upper- and lower-case letters, while staying away from words found in the dictionary.

The trick with this approach becomes memorizing the password. An iOS app called PasswordGear offers an ingenious mnemonic solution, in which each letter and number is transformed into a memorable image as described in the video below. Even if you don't have an iOS device, you can still apply the approach on your own.

For more reading on improving your password security and remembering them, check out Lifehacker's password articles.

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