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How to choose a good password

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These days more and more websites ask you to create a user account, so that you can be identified before being allowed to access some service or other.

To create an account you need to choose a user identity. This is simple, as your email address is used in most cases (, for example). Then you will need a password.

Ah! The password: the access key to so many things in your life: your computer, tablet (maybe), inbox, profile on Facebook or other social media, all the websites – commercial or otherwise – where you have a user account (oh yes, is one of them).

The problem with this password is that it needs to be difficult for a hacker to find when attacking one of your access points, but simple enough for you to remember easily.

You should be aware that one of the so-called "brute force" methods hackers use consists of using another computer to try thousands, even millions of words based on dictionaries (all the words in many different languages, all first names, all possible numbers, etc.). So obviously, you should forget any password which is a word or name, like “Jeremy”, or “11021990”. They will only take a couple of minutes to crack.

While we're on the subject, here are the top 10 worst passwords of 2012:


Let's look at what makes a good password:
  1. Meaningless when read, not a recognisable word or number
  2. Made up of lower and upper case letters along with numbers and, if possible, unusual characters (*, !, ?, etc.)
  3. At least 5 characters long, but 8 is better
  4. Known to you alone: a password is like a toothbrush – not for lending to others

So, how do we find this rare beast? Well, you can come up with a string of random characters, such as
1dH2$6up – very effective, but very hard to remember!

There is a much better solution: you will need to think of a phase, a fairly long one, that means something to you (the title of a film, book, poem, proverb, saying, etc.). Whatever it is, it needs to be familiar enough to come back to you quite naturally.

Let's use as an example the film "Star Wars Episode Five: The Empire Strikes Back". To create your password, use the first letter of each word, which will give you "sweftesb". This is difficult to guess and you can recite the title to yourself in your head as you type each letter.

That's really not bad at all, but we can improve it by adding in a few refinements: replace the "s" of "star" with "*" and replace the "f" of "five" with "5", which gives you "*we5tesb".

And Bob's your uncle! This system provides you with a password that is very difficult for a hacker to find, but which you can have at your fingertips in a matter of seconds.

Of course, you should never, ever, write it down anywhere afterwards, that negates the whole point…


If you need a reminder, just write down "empire strikes back" somewhere. That should be enough to jog your memory.

Last modified on: March 29th 2013

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