Thinking Tech

How to avoid the "500 worst passwords of all time"

Posting in Technology

It's estimated 50 per cent of passwords are names of a family member, spouse, partner or pet. One out of nine can be found on the "500 worst passwords of all time. by John Dodge

We all have lots of Internet passwords and about half of them are not difficult to guess. Just take a look at the "500 worst passwords of all time."

A strong password should be two things: easily recalled by its owner and difficult to guess by someone who doesn't know it. So even non-hackers can guess a few on the worst list.

"123456" is number one followed by you guessed it, "password." Some on the list are intriguing. Number 496 is a "mistress" although I don't know if the owners lean toward kept women or men who wished they had one. Many are profane with a hint of anger and impulsiveness suggesting people don't want to bother with passwords. Some are plays on words like "letmein." Number 486 is a seemingly cryptic letter string "abgrtyu" and still made the list.

The list comes from the book "Perfect Password: Selecttion, Protection, Authentication" published in 2005. While the list would appear outdated, it still gets considerable attention because it's unique.

One out of nine passwords used is on the list and about 50% of passwords are "based on names of a family member, spouse, partner, or a pet," according to the book's teaser on Amazon. Just ask Sarah Palin whose email was hacked last September by someone who reset her password using her zipcode, birthdate and where she met her spouse. When asked where she went to high school, the hacker entered  "Wasilla High" and was right. Such is the price of celebrity and people knowing a lot about you.

Passwords are a challenge. Like you, I often want quick access to a site and view the password as an obstacle deserving little attention. However, I can proudly say no password I have ever used is on the worst list.

In a recent discussion with fellow bloggers, one said he keeps passwords only in his head. He never writes them down ANYWHERE. I have far too many for that and lack the photographic mind he must have. He also avoids passwords hints such as a boyhood dog or mother's maiden name given what happened to Palin.

Another swears by password manager Roboform which can be downloaded for $35. I may try this given good reviews and because I don't feel secure with my current password strategy if you can call it that. I am constantly looking them up and must have about 30 of them. I also have used meebo with some success as a single logon/password to multiple instant messaging accounts. I tried something called a secure login named vidoop, but it was too good: it didn't let me into anything.

There's plenty of advice on how to create a good password such as Microsoft's six-steps to creating "a strong, memorable password. Some of the advice is obvious, but worth repeating.

-- Use a mix of symbols, characters and numbers. Use spaces if allowed.

-- If you can't use symbols, double the number of characters.

-- Think of a memorable sentence and take the first letter of each word and combine into a password.

-- Use a password checker to test its strength.

Follow me on Twitter.

Share this

John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure