How to build better passwords without losing your mind

No password is perfect, but you can build a better password with these simple tips.

Your e-mail password is your last line of defense when it comes to online privacy and security; if a hacker cracks that, they could potentially reset the passwords of and gain access to your social networks, your bank account and even your identity by taking advantage of the ubiquitous "I Forgot My Password" button.

It's tempting to use the same password for all of your online accounts, but doing so renders every account vulnerable if any one of them gets hacked. But given some recent massive security breaches, now's a good time to update your passwords and make sure each is unique.

There are a few great password management programs like KeePass that will store all of your passwords in one encrypted database and allow you to access them with one master password, allowing you to carry every password you'll ever need on a single thumb drive. A multi-platform password manager with browser support like LastPass is even easier to use because it will automatically sync between different computers and browsers, letting you access your encrypted database from any device, though you sacrifice the security of keeping your password list confined to a single hard drive.

Using a password manager is a great way to improve your personal security online, but it's not perfect; the perfect password is the one you never write down, a unique string of letters, numbers and symbols that not even you know until the moment you enter it. That may be beyond our grasp, but you can get awful close by using a few simple mnemonic tricks.

One Password To Rule Them All

It's actually fairly easy to create strong, unique passwords by following a few simple rules. First, we need a password "base" with a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and even a symbol or two to spice things up. Pick a phrase that will be easy to remember, and feel free to be as creative as you like. For simplicity's sake I'm going to use one of my favorite dishes, chicken adobo, as our example.

Make sure your passphrase is at least eight characters and avoid obviously memorable topics like proper names, birthdays and hometowns. You should also avoid picking a single word and changing some of its characters to symbols -- hacker tools are sophisticated enough to foil that trick. Go for a passphrase -- multiple words strung together -- rather than a password; this makes it harder for hackers working to crack your password by trying every word in the dictionary.

Now that we've picked a passphrase, we need to mash that phrase into a single string (chickenadobo), then sprinkle in a few capital letters that are simple to remember (ChickenAdobo). Next, let's pepper our password base with a few random characters to keep things interesting (Ch!cken@dob0).

Now that we have our base password, we're going to memorize and use it as a skeleton key that will unlock our account on any Website as long as we hold fast to a few simple rules. To create the strongest password possible, we're going to invent a simple naming pattern as a mnemonic device that will help us generate a unique password for every Website we visit.

For example, let's say I decided to always use the first and fourth letter of a Website's domain name in the middle of my passphrase, capitalizing the former while leaving the latter lower-case. That means my account would have the unique password Ch!ckenFe@dob0, while my account would require the password Ch!ckenAu@dob0.

See the pattern? Make up a something similar and you'll have a unique alphanumeric password for every website you visit, one that's easy to remember but nearly impossible for hackers to figure out. No password is perfect, but knowing your own unique passphrase and a few mnemonic tricks will go a long way towards keeping your online privacy intact.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityprivacy

More about Facebook

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Alex Wawro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place