Definition

password

A password is an unspaced sequence of characters used to determine that a computer user requesting access to a computer system is really that particular user. Typically, users of a multiuser or securely protected single-user system claim a unique name (called a user ID) that can be generally known. In order to verify that someone entering that user ID really is that person, a second identification, the password, known only to that person and to the system itself, is entered by the user. Most networks require that end users change their passwords on a periodic basis.

A password is typically somewhere between four and 16 characters, depending on how the computer system is set up. When a password is entered, the computer system is careful not to display the characters on the display screen, in case others might see it. Password entropy predicts how difficult a given password would be to crack through guessing, brute force cracking, dictionary attacks or other common methods. Password hardening is any one of a variety of measures taken to make it more difficult for an intruder to circumvent the authentication process.

Good criteria when choosing a password or setting up password guidelines include the following:

  • Don't pick a password that someone can easily guess if they know who you are (for example, not your Social Security number, birthday, or maiden name)
  • Don't pick a word that can be found in the dictionary (since there are programs that can rapidly try every word in the dictionary!)
  • Don't pick a word that is currently newsworthy
  • Don't pick a password that is similar to your previous password
  • Do pick a mixture of letters and at least one number
  • Do pick a word that you can easily remember

A Microsoft article about security suggests that you use a memorable phrase instead of a word and convert that phrase to a password. For example, the phrase, "My favorite movie is Star Wars" could be expressed as MiFAVm00vE1s*Warz.

This was last updated in June 2007

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Typically somewhere between four and 16 characters, depending on how the computer system is set up the computer system is careful not to display the characters on the display screen, in case others might see it
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It's also a good idea to set password expiration dates and force a new password to be entered. Some site even go as far as restricting them forcing mixed case and special chars.
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