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Use A Passphrase

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Why should I use a random passphrase?

Because humans are terrible at creating secure passwords. The famous xkcd comic got it right: humans have been trained to use hard-to-remember passwords that are easy for computers to guess.

Try as we might, humans usually end up using one of a few predictable patterns when creating passwords. We base them on things we can remember, such as names, locations, dates or just common English words. Then, we add some spice with a capital letter, some numbers, or a symbol.

Does your password fall into this group?

Bad Password Patterns Is It Memorable? Time To Crack
A common word (example: december) Yes. 18 milliseconds (Seriously. Try it in the box at the top.)
An easily-typed spatial word (example: qwerty or aaaaaaaa) Very much so. 10 milliseconds
The family dog (example: rusty) Yep. 27 milliseconds
An important number, such as a date or zip code (example: 03261981) It's memorable to you, certainly. 2.213 seconds
A word with trivial letter→number substitutions (example: S4nfr4n) Sort of memorable, but you may forget which letters are substituted for numbers. 639 milliseconds

If your password resembles any of these examples, it is instantly crackable. Even a mix of these patterns, such as [common word]+[number] will be straightforward to crack.

Compare those to a passphrase:

Password Pattern Is It Memorable? Time To Crack
Four or more randomly chosen words (example: mergers decade labeled manager) Type it a few times, and you'll have it committed to memory. 6,000,126 centuries. Give or take.

Is it really that easy to crack a password? How is it done, exactly?

The method for cracking usually looks something like this:

  1. First, the hackers start with a bunch of wordlists. The top 10,000 passwords is a good place to start. Also, lists of all English words, all names, dates, and so on. In less than one second, 30% of all passwords will be cracked.
  2. After exhausting those wordlists, they will try all of the words again with common substitutions: capitalizing the first letter (decemberDecember), making common letter-for-number swaps (decemberd3cemb3r), and other common password variations.
  3. Next, they start combining the previous wordlists. Name + date (doug3251983). Name + [separator] + date (doug.3251983).
  4. If all else fails: brute force, a.k.a. try every combination of characters. Try a, then b, then c ... eventually aa, ab, ac ... eventually 6j2b#hi8, 6j2b#hi9, 6j2b#hi0, et cetera.

If your password is based on any kind of pattern, using some combination of the above steps, it will eventually be cracked. Depending on how well-protected a website keeps your password, modern computers can make somewhere between 10,000 and 350 billion guesses per second.

Your best defense is using a truly random password generator (like this site).

I get it, simple passwords are cracked easily. But why should I use a random passphrase instead of, say, ipz2!az8k%0h?

There are dozens of random password generators out there that will happily put together a bunch of random characters for you to use as a password. These random passwords are secure, but they're a huge pain to actually remember.

Random passphrases provide the best combination of memorability and security.

By way of example, here are two passwords with similar crackability:

Password Time to crack
p%9y#k&yFm? Approximately 90,182,663 centuries
logic finite eager ratio Approximately 189,658,722 centuries

Which would you rather remember?

Fine, you've convinced me. I'll use a passphrase. What else can I do to increase my security?

The recipe for perfect password management is straightforward.

1. Use a password manager.

Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer all have built in password managers. But if you plan to use your passwords across devices, you probably should use one of these:

2. Use a strong master password for your password manager.

This is when a passphrase would be especially useful.

3. Use a different passphrase for every site.

belief romanian bridge profit
arts started bundle disease
delay gradual asset centers
keating post warburg johnson
efforts denying billed buy
whose category fonts mutual
easing autonomy weight five

And so on.

Should I really be getting my password from a website?

Honestly? Probably not. But in this page's defense, it makes zero external calls (no images, no javascript). Check your browser's network tab to verify. The passwords are all created by code contained in this page, and they are never stored.

For extra security, this page is designed to run entirely offline. Just download this page to your hard drive, disconnect from the internet, and open it in a browser. This way you can assure that the passwords are not being transmitted anywhere.

Learn More About Bytes Unlimited.

At Bytes Unlimited we offer many services, including the use of this free and awesome web app, Use A Passphrase. We believe in open source code and give credit and reference where due. Please check out our Home Page and even check out the various services we offer.

We keep a blog as well to help you to learn new things about Linux, which is for beginners and the more advanced SysAdmins or Developers out there that want to just double check their work.

Contact Us for more information!

We would love to be able to help your small business to be secure and effiecient as possible, from the ground up. Perhaps you want an audit to see where your website stands in regards to the latest security trends. Please send us a message by visiting: