Off the top of your head, how many different passwords do you have? If your answer is 10 or less, you must be using the same password for different services, which puts you at risk. On the other hand, I counted 146 passwords stored in my password manager, and that doesn’t include ones I use on an everyday basis and therefore never bothered to add. If something happened to my password manager, these passwords will be lost. There’s no way in the world I’m going to remember them all.
Having a different password for each service is a must in today’s online world, but there’s a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it’s impossible to remember them all. But how can you possibly remember hundreds of passwords? The human brain is only capable of so much, isn’t it?
Three years ago, Tina wrote a fantastic post about creating good, secure passwords that are easy to remember. The post includes some excellent tips, and I highly recommend that you read it too. Today, I’m going to re-visit this important subject, and fill you in on some priceless tips and tricks on creating strong, solid passwords that are impossible to guess, but will nonetheless be easy to remember.
What Makes A Password Safe?
This should be obvious to most by now, but no article about passwords is complete without it. Read these criteria even if you think you already know them, it never hurts to make sure!
- It must be at least 8 characters long.
- It must not contain easily guessed information such your birth date, phone number, spouse’s name, pet’s name, kid’s name, login name, etc.
- It shouldn’t contain words found in the dictionary.
- It should contain special characters such as @#$%^& and/or numbers.
- It should use a variation of upper and lower case letters.
The Base Password
The trick to remembering a large number of passwords is having a base password you change according to the service you’re signing up to. The idea of the base password is by no means a new one, and I’m sure most of you already know all about it. To me, the real challenge is finding a good base password I can actually remember. While most suggestions for a strong base secure password include changing letters to numbers and symbols (i changes to 1 or !, s changes to $ or 5, etc.) and changing the spelling of known words (love becomes luv, to becomes 2), I find these methods confusing. This way of writing doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and you may forget what you replaced your letters with.
If this method works for you, by all means, go ahead. Choosing a strong base password like “spooner”, changing it around to become $p0on3r, and attaching the service’s name to it will work great. If you’re looking for other original ways to generate a strong base password, here are some great ones.
Use A Favorite Book
This is probably my favorite method of all, and can be really fun if you like books. Choose a book you own in paper format, open it on a random page, or find a paragraph you especially like, and locate a word you can use as the base for your password.
For example, I used Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. I turned to page 109 at random, and found the word “jocularity”. This is the 4th word on line 33 on this page, and therefore my base password can be 109jocularity334. You can use a paragraph number instead of line number, if you wish, and play around with the numbers to place them in a way that’s easier for you to remember. For good measure, you can add some symbols in strategic place.
You can even go ahead an mark the word in the book with a pencil, to make sure you can find it again if you happen to forget the password. Just don’t keep the book next to your computer!
Example for full password: 109$jocluarity33#4MUO
Play Around With Vowels
This is a method you can use for the base password and the way you append the service’s name. There are many ways to do this creatively, one of which is taking a favorite phrase or activity and removing the vowels from it. You can also use the vowels again at the end of the password, to make it really hard to guess.
For example, I like to ride horses, so I can take the phrase “Ride A Horse”, remove the vowels, and get this: “RdHrs”. I can now choose to append the vowels at the beginning or end of the password, like this: “RdHrsieAoe”. This looks completely random, but it’s actually not, and if you know what phrase you used, you can be typing it quickly in no time. If you want to make it more secure by replacing some letters with numbers or symbols, go right ahead. You can also attach a number or symbols you know you’ll remember, but don’t use something too obvious like your postal code or date of birth.
When appending the service’s name, you can also play around with vowels. For example, let’s say you’re creating a password for Amazon. You can use the first two vowels and first two consonants of the service, and end up with “mzAa”. You can get really creative with this, and find the way that’s easiest for you to remember, but as long as you stick with the same method all the time, you should be in the clear.
Example for full password: RdHrsieAoe#285$Mkae
Use Motor Patterns
This is a cool tip I found over at lifehack.org, and one I’ve been using for codes and such all my life without even realizing. Motor patterns are not about remembering actual passwords. Rather, you remember the pattern your fingers take when typing that password on your keyboard. Have you ever remembered a code you have to punch in or a phone number by the pattern you use to dial it? This is the same thing, and can be used to generate passwords that look completely random, but are easy for you to remember.
There are many ways you can go about creating such a password, but my favorite way is to base it on a number you know you’ll remember (again, nothing too obvious!). Let’s take 285, for example. The easiest way to create a pattern out of it would be to use the letters that are directly below these numbers on my keyboard. For example, 2wsd8ikl5tgh. Looks completely meaningless, doesn’t it? You can spruce it up with more complex patterns, upper case letters and symbols, but don’t go too far, or you might forget your password!
If you really want to play safe, you can continue with motor patterns when appending the service’s name as well. For example, by using the letters to the left of each key, MUO can turn to MnUyOi.
Example for full password: 2wsd8ikl5tghMnUyOi
Connect The First Letters Of A Passphrase
This s a fun way to create passwords that are really easy to remember. Pick a phrase you love, such as “Love Makes The World Go Round”, and use the first letter of each word to create a new word: LMTWGR. You can now use this base password in any number of creative ways. Some ideas are: reverse it, add numbers and/or symbols you’ll remember, or use first and last letters of each word (LeMsTeWdGoRd).
Now all you have to do is append the service’s name, and you’re done.
Example for full password: Le2Ms8Te5Wd#Go$RdMUO
This a great way to create secure passwords, but I find it a bit harder to use and remember without getting confused. Nevertheless, it’s still a very useful method, and since our brains don’t all work the same, I’m sure some of you will love it.
Take a phrase, activity, etc. with two or three words, and mix the letters up so all first letters come first, all second letters come second, and so on. For example, if my phrase is “chocolate milkshake“, my password will look like this: cmhiolckoslhaatkee. You don’t have to choose such long words, of course, you can always go for something like “eat cake” – ecaatke. It all depends on how secure you want to be.
If you want to take it a step further, use capital letters for one word and lower-case letters for the other. You can also insert your favorite number/symbol combination, as I’ve been doing with my other examples. The final step is to append your service name, and you’re done.
Example for full password: cMhIoLcLoLlHaAtKeE285MUO
Reversing words is an obvious yet effective way to create secure passwords. Although I love black cats, my password can never be or include the phrase “Black Cat”. By reversing this phrase to taCkcalB or kcalBtaC, I get something that looks pretty much random, and is a much better fit for a base password. Some symbols and numbers could make it even more secure.
You can also use the reverse method on the service name. If you’re creating a password for eBay, try appending yaBe instead.
Example for full password: kcalB#$taC285OUM
You may not be aware of this, but many services allow spaces in the passwords you create for them. I would not rely on spaces for your base password, as some services will not allow you to use them and you’ll be stuck, but you can try adding a space between your base password and service name, and see if that works. If it does, it’s another layer of security for your password.
Check Your Password
Now that you’ve devised a base password you can remember, it’s time to check how secure it really is. HowSecureIsMyPassword will tell you how long it would take a desktop PC to crack your secure password, and also provide you with tips on how you can improve it.
The Password Meter is also a great place to check your password, and gives your password a score from 1 to 100. It provides detailed feedback and suggestions on how you can improve your password.
These Are Just Some Suggestions
There are endless ways and many tools to create memorable and strong passwords. Remember that even the methods mentioned above are only examples, each of them can be used in slightly different ways to create completely different results. Go with what you think would be the easiest for you to remember, and build your password around that. As long as you follow the basic guidelines, and use the same rules for all your passwords, you shouldn’t have problems.
If you’re not convinced, and would rather continue with random ones, find the best ways to manage your passwords. If you need further help in managing your huge password collection, head over to our password management guide for some priceless information. No matter how you prefer to generate your passwords, you might want to consider using a password manager to store them all. Here are a few basic types of password managers for you to pick from!