How to Create Strong Passwords

Password Strength Is Critical to Security

The first line of defense in computer security is choosing a strong password that cannot be guessed or cracked easily by modern computer programs. This will keep your business' information safe from hackers, and it can also help protect your laptop in case it is stolen.

Depending upon the limitations of your computer system or your account, you may not be able to use all of the following characteristics of a strong password, but use as many as permitted.

Don't Write Your Strong Password Down

It's smart to create a strong password, but one thing you should not do is write the password down and use that as a crutch. It's easy to lose whatever you write the password down on, for one thing, but worse, someone else might find it. This is especially important not to do at your office with passwords to sensitive business systems.

1
Password at Least 12 Characters Long

computer password field
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The minimum length for a strong password is 12 characters, but the longer the better. Instead of one word, use a combination of two or more words to form your password.

2
Mix Different Types of Characters

For most computer systems upper and lower case letters are not equal. In other words "password" is not the same as "PassWord." Use a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters (such as % { } . , $ @). The more you use, the stronger the password. There are some computer systems that don't allow special characters in passwords, but you can still get along without them. For example: oPERation$1985, Techno@Geek2009, etc. However, as password security has become more critical because more of our sensitive data is accessible online, some systems now require that your passwords include a mix of characters, including symbols.

3
Avoid Common Words and Number Sequences

Do not use words that can be found in a dictionary or on your social networking page (such as on Facebook, My Space, Twitter, and others). Avoid spouse names, pet names, birthdays, the names of streets you've lived on in the past and other words that are easily associated with you. These can be easily guessed, and perhaps even more easily turned up in a simple internet search.

Also do not make "12345" or "11111" or other common series of numbers (like your zip code) part of your password.

4
Substitute Letters for Numbers, and Vice Versa

To mix things up even further when creating the strongest possible password, substitute letters for numbers and numbers for letters.

For example, a "3" looks like a backwards "E" and a "5" or "$" looks like an "S." Other similar letter-number swaps are:

  • 4=A
  • @=a
  • 1=I
  • o=0 (zero)

Examples of these swaps:

  • "Iceman" turns into "1c3m@n"
  • "Coke-a-Cola" turns into "c0k3-@-co1@"

Add a number, name or word that you can remember to the end of these and you have more than twelve characters.

A cautionary note on these substitutions: These are common substitutions, so these can potentially be guessed if you use only one substitution and it's an obvious one. For example "C0uch" is not going to bolster the strength of your password much.

5
Be Creative

Mix it up. For example, instead of using "About.com" in a password, reverse it into "moc.tuoba". Use abbreviations that make sense to you. If your favorite song is "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, turn it into "IcGnSbTrS#1965" (notice: alternating upper and lower case letters with the year the song was released).