There are more than 171,000 words in the English language, and yet millions of us can’t look beyond the word that’s right in front of us when selecting a password.
Yes, the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre)’s Cyber Security Survey found that 3.6 million Britons use ‘password’ as their password. Just as bad are the 23.2 million who use ‘123456’ and the 3.8 million who use ‘qwerty’.
Other common passwords include people’s names (‘ashley’, ‘michael’, ‘daniel’, ‘jessica’ and ‘charlie’ were the most used), football teams and, bizarrely, the pop punk act ‘blink-182’.
But rather than simply castigate the British public for their ineptitude when selecting login credentials, the NCSC provides some much-needed advice on how we can better secure our accounts.
How to make your passwords stronger
When creating passwords, many experts advise using a combination of letters, numbers and special characters (which might explain the interest in Blink-182). However, the NCSC suggests that we might be better off with a combination of three random words.
The reason for this is simple. Despite the requirement for a mix of characters, most systems only require that passwords be six characters long. This might seem to be more than enough – a combination of 26 letters, 10 numerals and 33 special characters gives you 107 billion possible permutations – but reality rarely plays out this way.
For example, the number ‘1’ appears far more often than any other letter, and the special character (for there is typically only one) is almost always ‘-‘. Most of us have therefore given crooks a decent shot at two characters in your password – and they’ll typically be the last two characters.
If you try to outsmart crooks by gorging yourself on special characters, using passwords like ‘a3g^%s’, you’ve only made life harder for yourself. The password is almost impossible to memorise, and criminal hackers are aware of common substitutions, factoring them in when trying to access accounts.
However, as the NCSC advises, you can make your password much stronger simply by making it longer. Each additional letter you use makes your password 26 times harder to crack, meaning a ten-character password that uses letters alone has 141 trillion combinations.
To put it another way, How Secure Is My Password? predicts that the seemingly complex phrase ‘a3g^%s’ could be cracked in 400 milliseconds, whereas a ten-letter combination of three words, like ‘hardtocrack’, would take about a day.
That’s a decent result, but with the number of crooks in the wild churning through passwords, you can do better. Make your password a little longer, like ‘typingmypassword’, and you have a phrase that could take 35,000 years to crack – and that’s with the concession of making your password a literal description of itself.
Anyone capable of conjuring up three genuinely random words could create a password that would take trillions of years to crack without having to compromise on memorability.