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One of the biggest challenges facing computer users today is creating — and remembering — their account passwords, which are required for practically all online transactions.

Many people use the same password for multiple accounts — putting their data at risk — simply because it’s convenient. Because account providers require different lengths, characters, and periodic password changes, it can seem daunting to create strong passwords that are unique and easy to remember.

So, how do you keep the password guardians happy and still maintain your sanity? By following these two best practices.

Best Practice #1: Increase Randomness

Entropy is the numeric measure of a password’s randomness. The higher the value, the more unpredictable the password. Basically, the greater the entropy value, the harder it is to crack your password.

Best Practice #2: Make Your Password a Passphrase

According to some experts, the length of your password matters more than how complex or random it is. Using this principle, a 16-character passphrase (a few words strung together or a sentence) that is made up of only lower-case characters is stronger than an 8-character password made up of mixed upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters.

Even better, that 16-character passphrase is easier to remember. For example, a good passphrase with high entropy could be something like “ourdogdeliverspizza”.

Passphrase Tips and Tricks

Using just lower-case characters can help you make and remember passphrases easily, but some password guardians have additional requirements. Here are examples of what you can do for systems that require:

  • Mixed-Case Passphrases — Include both upper-case and lower-case characters, such as “OurDogDeliversPizza”
  • At Least One Digit — End the passphrase with a specific digit, e.g., “OurDogDeliversPizza5”
  • A Special Character — Tack one on at the end, as in “OurDogDeliversPizza5@”
  • Regular Password Changes — For example, if you decide to change your password in April, try something like “OurDogDeliversPizzaApril5@”

To avoid using the same passphrase for multiple accounts, customize the phrase for every site, e.g., “OurDogDeliversPizzaYahoo5@,” “OurDogDeliversPizzaAmazon5@,” and so on. Make up your own system and use it for every passphrase, whether or not the password guardian requires any or all of the rules listed above.

You can also experiment with the following strength calculators, but to be safe, don’t use any of your real passwords:

The Bottom Line

Passwords don’t have to be a chore or hard to remember. Be creative and consistent, and you’ll have better online security in no time. Just remember these two mantras — increase randomness and use passphrases.

Browse more resources on the MassIT Enterprise Security Office website during National Cyber Security Awareness Month this October.

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