Password Security

Basic Use of Passwords

After all these years you would think basic password security would be drilled into everyone who uses the Internet, yet time and time again I always come across people who still have not learned the basics.  Really what is so hard about remembering a password that is not text only?  One simple `odd` character in the word would make it a reasonable secure password.  Yet people still do not get the message that adding just one character really makes a difference.

When I see people who get compromised due to passwords it just makes me cringe.  I have yet to understand why they do not learn until someone takes advantage of their weak password.  It happens so often now I even have an example ready now for weak passwords.

You can still have a secure password which is easy to remember, it does not have to be full of random characters, just one or two really does make a difference.

Take my name for example, Scott Mcintyre, that’s 13 characters long and easy to remember all you have to do now is throw a few odd characters in there such as,


Which is easy to remember, it includes capitals and has a number, and is more than 10 characters.

Do you test you’re passwords?

Now it brought me on to the fact that does anyone actually test their password against dictionaries?  Both users and system administrators should test them regularly and the reaction I get when I guess the passwords is quite strange as if it has never happened before.

System Administrators

I personally only work with *NIX and test passwords atleast once a week on every single server with user accounts I manage.  On one time work the successrate for more than 100 passwords is generally 1-10%, however today I did get a 58% success-rate which sparked this entry.

As a *NIX administrator I feel it’s my job to ensure peoples passwords are updated also, I often use tools like John The Ripper against the /etc/shadow file to acheive this.  You may view my guide /etc/shadow password testing if you are unsure how to this.

End Users

End users should not have to test their passwords and should be using a password that gives them 100% reassurance.  Ultimately if you feel the need to check you’re password against dictionaries then you’re password is not good enough.

Multiple Locations

Do you use you’re password in multiple locations?  If so why? While it might be easy to remember it always leads to problems if by the off chance you’re password was ever compromised.  I feel this form of basic password security is the one that is the one that is not taken seriously the most.  I used to do it myself however have since realized it was bad just because of the number of people I have been bad things happen to.  There are methods of keeping you’re same password principal yet not using the same password. Take our above example,


You could change the position of the question mark for each different location, such as you’re instant messenger password could be S?c0tt`Mcintyre and you’re email could be Sc?0tt`Mcintyre, this is just different variations yet it keeps you’re password simple to remember.

Changing passwords

Do you change you’re password after a certain period?  This is generally a good idea if you use the same password in multiple locations.  Personally I do change my passwords around once every 3-4 months.  I do it so I can remember them easier, newer passwords will stay fresh in the mind whilst older passwords can be forgotten and confused with others.


As it seems I have joined the list of thousands, possible millions, of other articles/rants about password security but I think it has to be said that it’s quite shocking the number of people that totally ignore the basic concept.