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What’s a Good Password?

I told my friend my password, and she said it was a really bad one. What does it mean to have a “bad” password? And what’s a “good” one, then?

You told someone else your password? Yikes! I’ve seen more accounts get stolen by that one simple act than by any other single cause. I sure hope you know what you’re doing – most people that have told a friend their password have come to regret it.

So what’s a bad password? One that someone could easily guess.

A good password? One that’s hard to guess, of course.

The problem is that people are way better guessers than you think. And it gets worse if the guesser starts using a computer to do the “guessing” for them.

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What’s a bad password?

A bad password is any password composed of common words or names, particularly if the password is short. For example, “iLoveMikey” is a bad password. “mydogspot” is a bad password. “GeorgeInParis” is a bad password. All are simply combinations of words or names. On top of that, many people choose bad passwords that express information that someone who knows you might be able to guess. If your boyfriend’s name is “Mikey”, your dog’s name is “Spot”, or you met someone named “George” during a trip to Paris, these are all things that people who know just a little about you can use to start making some educated guesses as to what your password might be.

And as I said, people can be really good guessers.

The irony is that the people who know you the best – your friends – are the ones who can probably make the best guesses and are the most likely to guess your password if it’s a bad one.

Another problem with passwords made up from words and names is that it’s really easy for a determined hacker to set up a computer with a dictionary of words and names and have it start trying combinations until something works.

What’s a good password?

A good password is a long random sequence of characters – letters, numbers and any “special characters”. “qicITcl}” is a good password. “rAg2imWOIgIf47IM24busml6kpetPF9UGRpPAFBMCoSmSTptbDcOxwcG3aPoa79” is a great password. The best passwords are made up of completely random characters and as long as you can make it.

You can see the problem – great passwords are impossible to remember. So if you can’t remember it, what good is it?

The solution is either a compromise, or the use of some technology.

The compromise

The compromise I use works like this:

  • I never include full English words or names – instead I use misspellings or phonetic sound-alikes
  • I always include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers
  • I always make sure the password is at least eight characters long, preferably longer

So, for example, while “Macintosh” is bad, “Mac7T0sh” might be good and probably easier to remember. “HondaPrelude” is bad, but “Pre7ood6” is much, much better.

The bottom line for this compromise: pick a random looking password that YOU can remember but that “they” would never guess – and as I’ve said a couple of times, always assume that “they” are always really great guessers.

Using Technology

Never, ever, write your password down on a piece of paper near your computer. Paper is definitely not the technology I’m talking about. It’s amazing how many passwords are stored on sticky notes right on the monitor, under the mouse pad or in a desk drawer. It’s not that hard for the motivated to go searching and find all that.

My old approach was to use an Excel spreadsheet with all account names and passwords – in fact I still do for much of my sensitive information. By itself, that’s incredibly insecure and dangerous. Anyone who can get a hold of that spreadsheet has everything. Other people use simple text files that suffer from the same fundamental flaw – it’s the moral equivalent of a sticky note. Anyone who has access to the file has all the passwords.

The solution is to encrypt the file. I’m not talking about the encryption built into applications like Excel – which I’m led to believe is reasonably easy to defeat – but an “industrial strength” encryption solution such as VeraCrypt. Using VeraCrypt you can control exactly when the information is actually visible, and the rest of the time it remains safely encrypted.

My current approach for website logins is to use Lastpass. Lastpass captures passwords when you enter them as you visit websites requiring login and then remembers them for you in an encrypted database. When you return to that site, RoboForm makes the login available for you automatically. It includes a handy random password generator. Since RoboForm remembers passwords for you, you can use completely random strings – the most secure passwords possible, as I described earlier.

But – be aware that Lastpass and the VeraCrypt-style of encrypted solutions both require one thing: a password to decrypt the database of passwords. That password needs to be something you can remember, yet something secure. However, remembering that one password then opens up the vault to your entire set of accounts and passwords.

Posted: October 1, 2006 in: Passwords
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26 comments on “What’s a Good Password?”

  1. One trick I learned from a website is to use the abbreviation for a sentence you can remember. For example: three blind mice, see how they run..
    Password: tbmshtr

    That’s not a bad password, but now we can change “Three” to 3 and add punctuation: 3 Blind Mice (see how they run)
    Password: 3BM(shtr)

    And that is a pretty secure password. It’s easy for you to remember and it’s not based on an English word. Moreover, it has the added benefit that if someone happened to see it written out, they’re less likely to remember it because it’s gibirish. HaX0r 3ng1i$h w0rd$ don’t have that benefit.

    Also, if I’m about to choose the password for something I care about, I run it through a password strength checker. The best one I’ve found is at this site: (if that gets nixed by the spam filter, google “Certainkey password checker” and it’s the first result). Not only is it the strictist checker I’ve found (no english words allowed), but it gives an estimate of how long a determined hacker would need to crack it. The password above would take aprox. 67,000 days to crack.

  2. If you want to read more about passwords, here’s a a blogs that leads to some great articles about passwords and password myths:

    But back to the discussion, so, what methods can be used instead of passwords? In Korea they’re starting to use fingerprints as a form of identification. So intsead of using a password to log in or unlock your computer, you have a built in “digital inkpad” that you press your finger against to gain access to your comp. I don’t know how realistic or how soon such a form of security will be implemented in America but it seems like right now the best idea for protection is to use a form of encryption in addition to your password, such as protecting your database of passwords, using applications like Roboform, or accessing secure sites that use encryption for protection. You should also want to also look into encrypting anything else that you might not want others to gain access to, beyond just your database full of passwords. Such as any scans, bank statements, health information, or email that should be protected.

  3. If you want to be *really* secure (if you’re storing bank access passwords or something), don’t just use Truecrypt on your normal Windows computer (and certainly not on a public computer). Put the Linux version of it on a CD or floppy, get hold of a LiveCD Linux distro (such as Ubunutu), and run Trucrypt from there. The purpose of this is to defeat software keyloggers, spyware, invisible PC-anywhere type software, etc. that someone may have installed.

    Also, if you suspect someone could have installed a hardware keylogger on your computer (either by replacing your keyboard with an identical one with a keylogger built on, or by putting a small dongle on the end of your keyboard cable — yes, it does happen) enter your password with the virtual “on-screen” keyboard using the mouse (most OS’s have these to help people who have trouble using a normal keyboard).

    And of course, if you’re doing this at work rather than home, be aware of the positions of any security cameras or people wandering too close behind. Ideally only do this in a room only you have access to.

    Remember, you can never be too secure. You can, however, be too paranoid; for which I reccommend a reputable therapist. Hint: any therapist who asks you to disclose your passwords as part of the healing process is automotically not reputable.

  4. Yes, each product key is unique, though the same key may be used in a site license purchase, (and of course, pirated copies). But normal run of the mill purchases should each have a unique key.

    fwiw, if my math is right, I believe a 25 character product key with letters and digits has 25^36 possible combinations (approx 2 followed by 50 zeros). While I’m sure not all combinations are used, that’s more than enough to cover a measily 5,000,000 :-).

  5. The best method I know of to create a password is at
    If one is so inclined, it goes over the full mathematics of why it is a secure method of picking a passPHRASE. Just roll some dice, look up the words corresponding with the dice, and there’s your password. You end up with a long password, that is truly random, but unlike any other method recommended for passwords, is easier to remember. Combine this with a password keeper like KeePass and you can have all the secure passwords you want.

  6. but to be honest leo , for developers and programmers especially it’s too hard to remember hard guess password every time you register an account in important site or make an account on a script installed on your server etc… , so my advice to wrote your passwords on a paper away from the computer and make this paper save , this is the only solution i see it very safely. ” because systems and technologies could hacked or stole , but surely our memories and our mind can’t”

    thank you leo

  7. While “georgeinparis” might be a “bad” password, how long do you think it would take ANYONE to guess a password such as “george423crackers”? A long time, I hope, because I use such passwords.

  8. I take my password (say buddy) then encrypt it with a simple cypher. use alphabet go to first letter put b then add say 3 letters and use that letter in password which would be the letter ‘e’and so on. be creative. Read Dale Brown “Digital Fortress”

  9. Great post.

    One more viable method of remembering a not-easily guessed password: Use the first or second or last letter of each word in an easily remembered sentence.

    Example: “My dog (Spot) is 3 years old!” can be remembered and yields “Md(i3yo” or “yoSs3el” or “yg)s3s!”.


  10. You can also just use words that don’t exist, at least that’s what I do.

    For example table and chair are normal English words, but Vorlesmit and Garkolnat aren’t and then you combine such words and add numbers and special characters to em and upper/lowercase them and you have a password that can’t be found in any dictionary; “Vorles@Gark.159!”

    no, that’s not my password, it’s just an example 🙂 (or is it?)

    Great technique, but it leaves me wondering if you just managed to post foreign-language profanity on my site. Smile

    – Leo
  11. In a nutshell a good password is one that is composed of alphanumeric characters. Let me touch on the spot many havent touched; Virues, easy and straight forward passwords are very vulnerable to virues. Make your system secure with a password thats not easy to crack, a combination of alphabet and numeric characters, thats a good password.

  12. For the absolute ultimate “Last Word” in passwords, read the book “Perfect Passwords”  by Mark Burnett. You can snag it on Amazon for under twenty smackers, plus S&H, at:

    Bottom line: The “Perfect” password will contain all of the following six elements: (1) Randomness in character selection, (2) Length (more than 16 characters), (3) Lowercase letters, (4) Uppercase letters, (5) Numbers, and (6) Punctuation or symbols.

    Bottom line: The more of each of these elements you can add to your password, the more secure that password will be!

  13. The problem with complex passwords is our ability to remember them ourselves! My method:

    my street address in SF was 767
    My name is bob

    So, alternating first initials and upper/lower case


    interjecting my street address of 767



    then I repeat it


    I only do this for critical things like banking,investments, credit cards, etc., anything that relates to my finances. But the hint is simple:

    Even if I’m on the road, I can log on and check the hint. That hint will produce my p/w.

  14. One good way of coming up with a more secure password is to think of a unique phrase you use all the time, and add an address or birth year number on the end of it. For example, one of your favorite phrases is “Life is a bowl of cherries”. Take the first letter of each word and you get, “Liaboc”. Add a birth year and attach a special character like “!” and you get “Liaboc1963!” for a strong password you can remember.

  15. Terrific article Leo, but I think the comments from robert price and Rocco are also good and reflect my own practice. I create complex passwords, typically 10 to 12 characters, using elements from my personal life that I can then reflect in a password reminder. I use a standard format for each password – even though the actual characters are different each time – and the result is that for each password I can create a reminder which means something to me but nothing to anybody else. I defy you to guess the password which is represented by this reminder: “Gotcha!27(browneyes)”
    Believe it or not that reminder does mean something very definite to me, but I bet you’ll never guess what the password is, however good a guesser you (or your computers) are. One reason you’ll never guess it is I am not on Facebook, and never will be. I doubt whether any avid Facebook user can use this method – too much is known about them by all and sundry (particularly the sundry).

  16. A good password SHOULD HAVE Special characters and mix of upper and lower cases and numbers and can be remembered by te user. Example A@N#a7HhO0hnn 13 characters for a router. It has numeric o and Upper Case of the letter O and ANA with special characters in between

  17. i use lastpass and u can also go to system preferences,accounts,click on the admin account,click change password,then click on key icon and it will generate a random password. Then u just copy and then paste it into the what ever u are using the password for

  18. First, I believe if you use Linux and Thunderbird you are much safer. There is a Linux system, Linux Mint 9, that is very easy to install and very user friendly. If you ever make the change you will never go back.
    Second, I have not tried this but I just thought of it and it sounds good. Type a very long, very complex line of characters on a sticky note somewhere on your computer. Keep this for future passwords. Then, to set up a password, highlight and copy the desired number of characters from that string. Example, *sFl$B{9o0xY. You would make it much longer. Then copy from that, I$B{ for example and paste it as your password. (For some reason I was unable to copy that and had to type it in.)
    When you want to use the password just remember to copy the 4 through the 7th character. Of course, actually make it longer than that. When time to change the password just copy characters 16 through 25 and use that for the new password. As long as that password is in use you can always copy characters 16 through 25 and insert them as password.
    I have not tried this. It is just a sudden idea.

  19. Most advice I’ve read suggests not using family and pet names and details. I use presidential initials, a significant year in their term and something specific to the website. For AskLeo it might be HST1948Ask. Password Evaluator says it is Medium and gave it a score of 32 out of 50.

  20. I was using Keepass, until the file got corrupted and I landed in a problem. I will be glad to know how to take back of these facilities, and also move from one computer to another. Thanks.

  21. How do you prevent total loss when your password solution goes belly up.
    It seems to me that you really need triple redundancy for that sort of solution. Also if a I do you access data from multiple locations either on an internal network our “the cloud” it needs to be cloud based and is only a good a your network connection.
    By the way thanks for a great newsletter. I have been working with networks and computers for 25 years and you are still teaching me new stuff.

  22. To me what makes a good password is having some form of 2FA (two-factor authentication) where you can telesign into your account. It’s very important that the leading companies in their respective verticals are giving users the appropriate additional layer of authentication and security for access to accounts and transaction verification without unreasonable complexity.

  23. How do I know when I change my password(s) that everything is secure at…for instance…the Google or Yahoo site?
    Am I being paranoid since I was previously hacked w/1000’s of others?

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