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Acronym-based passwords

Acronym-based passwords

This tip was submitted to the SearchSecurity Tip Exchange by user Keith Langmead. Let other users know how useful it is by rating the tip below.

Like a long running battle between nations, the battle over passwords has raged between users and their system administrators for years. The users typically aren't too concerned about security, they don't understand the real purpose of having it and they want to have a simple method to login. Administrators, however, understand all too well the need for security and would therefore prefer to see everyone using a hard to guess (and therefore by inference hard to remember) password, but without using the old standby of writing them down on a sticky note.

There is a simple method that can be used to fulfil both criteria, and thus keep everyone happy, using mnemonics. For anyone who is unsure, a mnemonic is where you shorten a phrase or sentence into a shorter word. There are a lot of these in common use on the Internet. For instance, BTW = by the way, ROTFL = roll on the floor laughing, etc.

As well as this, you can employ two other techniques to make the resultant password harder to guess, while easy to remember, by creating rules with which to decide which characters become numeric or non-alphanumeric and which become upper case characters.

Here's an example:

First create a simple phrase or sentence which will be easy to remember. For example, "my server administrator

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lets me choose my own password." This then shortens to "msalmcmop." It's a long password, but should still be easy to remember.

Next, change some letters to other characters using the rule you have decided on earlier, so the string now becomes "m5@1mcmop."

Finally, change the case of some letters, again using the rule you decided on earlier. In this case I will convert all letters that are not next to a number or character to upper case. So, the end result becomes "m5@lMCMOP."

Now we have a system which the user can remember easily, but which would be very difficult for anyone to guess, without knowing the entire phrase used and the rules used to convert it.


This was first published in September 2001

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