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Passwords: Your first line of defense

News > Passwords: Your first line of defense

Passwords: Your first line of defense


In the 1983 movie WarGames, a young hacker gains access to a Defense Department supercomputer by guessing the password: "Joshua," the computer developer's late son. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since then, but many people are no more careful about their passwords than heartbroken genius Dr. Falken was in the movie.

In 2014 the three most common passwords in America were "123456," "password" and "12345," according to an annual report. The top-ten included more number sequences and "qwerty," the first five letters on a standard keyboard. Fans of The X-Files might recognize number 25: "trustno1."

Microsoft recently noted that "attacks on companies were increasingly using legitimate tools: organizations are being compromised through access made with valid (albeit stolen or otherwise compromised) user credentials, rather than malware." Meanwhile, cyber crimes are "growing more common, more costly, and taking longer to resolve," according to a report from HP.

But upgrading from 12345 to, say, your child's name or favorite hobby isn't much of an improvement. Someone who knows you, or who can find information about you online, can narrow down the possibilities. If your social media profiles include the fact that you're a die-hard Cleveland Indians fan, then passwords like "tribe," "santana" and "wahoo" aren't as secure as you think.

Another risk: using the same password for multiple accounts. If, like most people, you have trouble remembering lots of passwords, you can try a password manager. has a guide to the pros and cons of the many paid and free options.

Now you're probably wondering, "And what if someone steals my password for that?" Try a diceware passphrase. A passphrase is a sequence of words; "diceware" refers to using dice to choose them, so that the sequence is truly random - like "bolt vat frisky fob land hazy rigid." Even someone with access to a computer capable of making one trillion guesses per second would need about 27 million years to guess that phrase. Of course that's NSA-level hacking; your passphrase could probably be a little shorter.

Many popular networks like Gmail and Facebook now offer two-factor authentication as an optional precaution against compromised passwords. This adds a second step to log in: after entering your password, you'll immediate receive a text message on your phone with a randomly generated code that you enter next. Our partner Fortinet offers customizable two-factor authentication solutions for businesses as well.

To learn more about password authentication solutions, contact us.