Choosing Good Passwords

When it comes to your computer, choosing good passwords are the keys to the kingdom—you don't want them falling into the wrong hands. Follow these tips for creating and safeguarding effective passwords, and you'll keep the bad guys guessing.
What makes a password obvious to hackers?
Often you create a password on the spot, when you may be in a hurry. Many people will just pick any word that comes to mind without a second thought. Weak passwords like this are easy targets for hackers, and they can be "guessed" easily by computer programs that are designed to do just that. These "cracking" tools work by essentially trying every word in the dictionary, a so-called "dictionary" attack, to see whether it's your password. More sophisticated programs use words from multiple languages, adding in digits, and so forth.

Choosing Good Passwords
Extra effort can make a huge difference
A successful dictionary attack depends on passwords that contain recognizable words. Avoid using real words in your passwords, as well as personal information that's easy for people to figure out, like your birthday or house number. Instead, use a random series of characters that includes digits, punctuation marks and other special characters, and upper- and lowercase letters. Note that making strings of characters that look like words (such as "p4ssw0rd") is a common idea, but a bad one. Most hacking tools routinely check for this type of substitution method.

Making a strong password
  • Use at least eight characters
  • Combine letters, digits, and special characters
  • Mix upper- and lower-case letters
  • Make sure no portion appears in any language's dictionary
  • Avoid using recognizable personal information
It's easy to check the strength of your password
Once you know how to create an effective password, you'll want to check its strength. You can use the Microsoft Password Checker to improve the security of your information, without guesswork. This free tool will rate your password: weak – medium – strong – best. You can also modify your password and immediately know if your changes have made it stronger.
Some passwords don't need to be as strong as others
In some cases, a password that contains a simple combination of a word and a few easy-to-remember digits may be sufficient for low-risk sites or ones you use often, such as a news site. You can save your strongest passwords for your online banking and other vulnerable sites. Avoid the "list of passwords next to the monitor" scenario
Most of us have, at some point, written a password on a piece of paper. In fact, a lot of people keep a list of passwords in a handy spot near their computer. This is never a good idea—you never know you might see your list. This holds true for laptop users as well, who tend to carry password lists, which can be stolen or lost, around with them.
Strategies for securing passwords
Most of us can't memorize a long and changing list of complicated passwords, but fortunately technology can help.
  • Use a password manager, such as those provided by, or one of many online password management tools. Of course, using one of these free or low-cost tools requires you to entrust your private information to strangers, so make sure you research these tools carefully.
  • Store your passwords in a word processing file on your computer that is protected by a strong password. Many word processors allow you to set a password that must be entered before a file can be opened.
  • To set a password in Microsoft Word* 2007, first click the Microsoft Office* button
  • Next, point to Prepare, and click Encrypt Document. A dialog box will display that allows you to enter and then confirm a password to protect your document. In Word 2003, you can set a similar password: select Options from the Tools menu, and then click the Security tab.
Tip: If you store information in a password-protected file, be very sure to protect and keep track of the password you use for that file. If you lose it, you can't get it back.



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