The times, they are a changin’

It’s World Password Day and there seem to be a lot of posts suggesting that the end is nigh for passwords. I’m here to burst that bubble; Passwords may be going away, but not anytime soon, and so we still need to make sure that we’re taking care of all of the ones we have.

Passwords are still around because the user experience is really good. We know that to get into our favorite apps and websites, we need a username and a password. We memorize the passwords so that we really don’t have to do anything other than type it in to the box. We don’t need to go searching for a USB thingy to plug into our computer, we don’t need to go and get a code from some other device, we don’t need to find that book that we write them all down in. Username, same old password, done. The problem is, we’re not machines and we don’t have computers for brains. Therefore we take short-cuts; We use simple passwords and instead of choosing one for each site, we re-use the same simple passwords over and over again. This makes the experience even simpler but leaves us open to major breaches of our privacy and information.

Companies don’t help. Make sure the password is at least 8 characters, has at least one capital letter, one lower-case letter, one number, and one special character. You have to change it every two months and you can’t re-use the last 10 passwords you used. Oh yeah, don’t use your name, your pet’s name, your favorite sports team’s name, any variation on the company name, your mother’s maiden name, and no repeating characters. Passwords are hard and we’re really good at making the whole process harder.

There is a better way though and it isn’t the disappearance of the password (although that would be great). Times are changing because of the understanding that length is the most important characteristic of passwords, not complexity. Your password needs to be long, but memorable, and you should use a unique one for each service that requires one. Humans are good at remembering long, but simple things. It’s all that complexity stuff that tries our brains.

How hard is this to remember? “apple\Spiders2puppies” Not hard, and that’s a 21 character complex password (Pro Tip: Don’t use that example as your password). Variations of this for each different site or app are just as secure, but different.

Still don’t want to have to remember all of those passwords? Sign up for a password vault service like LastPass, 1 Password, DashLane, or a free local password saver like KeePass. The advantage to these tools is that they are integrated into your browsers and automatically fill in your passwords in addition to allowing you to generate completely random passwords. I only know the password to my manager, I have no idea what my passwords are for the vast majority of sites and apps I use. Of course, you should also use 2 factor authentication, also referred to as two-step verification. That’s another post on its own though.

So in honour of World Password day, go sign-up for a password manager and change all of your passwords. If not a service, at least change all of your passwords using the premise that length is most important. You’ll be glad you did and your online life will be easier and more secure. How often do we get to say that?