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Tech Talk With Greg Bailey

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This article is going to focus on a very specific element of Internet security: password strength. For almost any online service that uses an account, there are going to be at least two pieces of information attached to it, your user name and your password.

Your e-mail may also be associated with the account, and some services will have additional safeguards when it comes to protecting your account, such as a security question. But, for the most part, keeping your password secret is vital to ensure your account’s security. Given this, it is very important to make sure that you have a strong password.

But what do I mean by a “strong” password? A password’s strength is based on how hard it would be for someone to figure out or guess. Most people would say that their password is hard or even impossible to guess, but for a shocking number of computer users this isn’t the case.

Let’s look at some passwords, and why they are strong or weak. First, let’s look at passwords like, “Password”, “12345”, and “happy”. This is very important...

DO NOT make your password “password”. Just don’t do it. For the second example, “12345,” a password of all numbers is also not a good idea... but a password of all consecutive numbers starting from 1 is a horrible idea. “Happy” is a weak password, though not as weak as the other two. Simple dictionary words like this are easily crackable. Your password should not be a word found in any dictionary, or a pure number. On top of that, your password shouldn’t be something that names a place or thing.

Using the name of a loved one or a good friend can be an even worse problem. The reason that a password like this doesn’t work is that your family members and friends are likely known by your other acquaintances. This means someone you know could possibly guess that person’s name and therefore has your password. It’s even possible that a complete stranger could look at a social page you own, like your Facebook page, and glean your password from your posts. Your password should never be something that you might say or type in conversation with someone else.

A good password would be something like, “atc39mn2s”.

This password might seem like a random string of gibberish... and it is! Passwords like this are what you should be aiming for; they are incredibly hard to crack compared to simpler passwords.

“Brute force” methods of guessing large amounts of common passwords will be ineffective, and there’s no way someone could figure out a random string of numbers and letters from a Facebook page. While this type of password is more difficult to remember than others, it is by far the best!

I’ll leave you with a few quick tips for keeping your password secure:

1. Try not to use the same password for everything you do. If you use the same password for multiple accounts, if even one account is compromised, so are the rest.

2. When it comes to password strength, more characters is always better. There is no need to be extreme and make your password the length of a sentence, but a fourteen character password is much more secure than a six character password.

3. There is never a bad time to change your password.

Changing your password to something different on a regular basis can make your account that much safer. Just make sure you know how the account lets users change their password. Be weary of an e-mail that suggests a password change, especially if they send a website to go to along with the mail.

This article is the third in a series devoted to Internet security, and learning how to keep you and your information safe. Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to greg@bpcmediaworks.com

Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR Bourns College of Engineering

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