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Create strong and memorable passwords

Computer Tutor: John Lucas


Despite the fact that strong passwords are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting us from online identity theft, most of us are not very creative when it comes to choosing passwords.

The general tendency for most of us is to create weak passwords by incorporating some kind of personal information such as the name(s) of our spouse, children or pets in our passwords. Or we incorporate a personal number in our passwords such as our birthday, phone number, address or Social Security number. With much of this kind of personal information directly available to hackers via public records or social websites, it takes little time and effort for them to guess a password and gain easy access to our private information.

Most computer security experts agree that strong passwords should contain at least these basic elements:

A minimum of eight characters

Upper and lower case letters

Numbers

Symbols

To create strong and easy-to-remember passwords for all your accounts, one password creation strategy is to use the same base word acronym as the foundation or building block for all your passwords.

1. The first step in this strategy is to choose a phrase or sentence you can easily remember and then create a base word acronym from the first letters of that phrase or sentence. Choose a line from a favorite quotation, poem, limerick, Bible verse or song or create your own nonsensical phrase.

Some examples:

MTFBWY (May The Force Be With You)

TLIMSISNW (The Lord Is My Shepherd I Shall Not Want)

OSCYS (Oh Say Can You See)

PUOSU (Put Up Or Shut Up)

AMIABWRS (A Monkey In A Box Wears Red Socks)

Let’s assume you chose the famous line “To be, or not to be” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Using the first letters of each word in the phrase, your six-letter base word acronym would be TBONTB.

2. Mix in upper and lower case letters and numbers to create greater complexity. You may decide to capitalize only the vowels of your base word acronym and convert all the letter “t”s to the number 2. With these changes, your original base word acronym TBONTB becomes 2bOn2b.

3. Add some special symbols or characters to make your base word acronym more unique. In this case, you could decide to add a question mark at the end of your base word acronym, changing it from 2bOn2b to 2bOn2b?

4. To create a unique password for each account, use the same formula. Using a plus sign, combine the base word acronym you have created with the first three letters of the name of that specific account. Examples:

Chase Bank password: (2bOn2b? + cha) = 2bOn2b?+cha

Gmail password: (2bOn2b? + gma) = 2bOn2b?+gma

As mentioned in last month’s column, you can use an online password analyzer to test the strength of your new passwords. Two of my favorite sites are Passwordmeter.com and Microsoft’s PC-Security Password Checker.

For more information about this month’s topic, search for “tips and strategies for creating passwords” using Google or your favorite search engine.

John Lucas is the owner of Your Computer Tutor which provides personalized home computer instruction and technical support for Macs and PCs in the Portland area. A retired teacher with a master’s in library science, Lucas welcomes questions about common computer issues. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-333-8542.