You’ve seen all the familiar rules for strong passwords almost every time you create an online account. Use capital letters, numbers and special characters, and make it at least 8 characters long (or 10, or 12). These requirements are designed to make it harder for hackers to get into your accounts. However, they don’t really make your password stronger, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Security and Privacy Laboratory at CMU, says her team has a better way, a meter that websites can use to prompt you to create more-secure passwords. After you’ve created a password of at least 10 characters, the meter will start giving suggestions, such as breaking up common words with slashes or random letters, to make your password stronger.
These tips set the password strength meter apart from other meters that provide an estimated password strength, often using colors. The suggestions don’t come from a checklist, but instead respond to common pitfalls Cranor’s team has seen people make when they set up passwords during experiments run by the lab over several years.
One of the problems with many passwords is that they tick all the security checks but are still easy to guess because most of us follow the same patterns, the lab found. Are numbers required? You’ll likely add a “1” at the end. Is it capital letters? You’ll probably make it the first one in the password. And special characters? Frequently exclamation marks.
CMU’s password meter will offer advice for strengthening a password like “ILoveYou2!” — which meets the standard requirements. The meter also offers other advice based on what you type in, such as reminding you not to use a name or suggesting you put special characters in the middle of your password.
“It’s relevant to what you’re doing, rather than some random tip,” Cranor said.
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