The only formula you'll ever need for creating secure, easy-to-remember passwords for everything
When I was fifteen, I noticed that my closest friend didn’t come to school one day.
He didn’t come the next day, either. I called his house, but his mom said he was too sick to talk.
The following day, I showed up at his home. He answered the door wearing plastic bags on his hands. But he immediately jumped back. He scrambled halfway up the staircase, facing the door. Speaking to me from the steps, he claimed to have a rare disease. It was highly contagious, so his family was staying at a hotel. “I have just a few months to live,” he said.
As I contemplated this, he whipped off his gloves and screamed, “I can’t go through this alone!” He then ran towards me with outstretched hands.
I didn’t have time to open the door, so I ran down the hallway. Later, he said he stopped chasing me because he feared I might run through the patio glass door.
He simply had the flu…and a sick sense of humour.
Everyone has a story they’ll never forget. And in today’s world of passwords (everything from Facebook to your bank account) you could use those stories to protect yourself against creeps who try to hack your accounts.
In 2022 NordPass listed the 200 most common passwords and the time it takes to crack them. The most common password people use is…password.
It takes one second to crack that.
The second most common password is 123456.
It takes one second to crack that, too.
The third most common?
Again, one second.
You might laugh. But the passwords you pick could be easier to crack than you think.
According to Norton, hackers exposed 24 billion passwords in 2022. More than 80 percent of those were a result of stolen, weak or re-used passwords.
You’ll never have a password or cyber-protection that’s 100 percent secure.
Even online services meant to protect your passwords can sometimes be hacked.
You might try storing passwords on paper. But if someone breaks into your home that’s one of the first things a smart thief seeks.
You might store passwords on your laptop. But that isn’t secure either.
You could store them in the cloud, but if someone steals your laptop, they can access those, too.
Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of Psychology and Behavioural Neuroscientist, has the best suggestion I know for creating tough-to-crack passwords that are easy to remember. In his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, he says, “Don’t even think about using your dog’s name or your birthday as a password, or, for that matter, any word that can be found in a dictionary.”
He says complex passwords are easy to remember if we boil a personal memory into a single sentence. Often, ridiculous memories are the easiest to recall. Levitin suggests using the first letters of that sentence for the password.
“In 1985, my friend chased me through his house.”
I could turn this into the password:
I 1 m f c m t h h
This uses upper and lower case letters, as well as one number.
If I want to use a special symbol, I could add an exclamation point somewhere in the middle. This boosts security. A natural place, in my example, might include an exclamation point after the word “friend.” After all, why would a friend do something so outrageous?
Then the password would look like this:
I 1 m f ! c m t h h
You could use your own standard formula for every password you use.
Assume you have a bank account with HSBC. You could simply add “HS” to the beginning. My example would look like this:
H S I 1 m f ! c m t h h
You might use this one, below, for a Gmail account:
G m I 1 m f ! c m t h h
If you needed to change the password every month, you might do this for the month of October:
I 1 m f ! c m t h h o c t
If you think several variations might be tough to remember, Dr. Levitin says you could write them on a piece of paper. They would make little sense to a thief. Here are some examples from his book:
- Aetna health insurance - std formula w/o special char or number
- Citibank checking - std formula
- Citibank Visa card - std formula w/o number
- Liberty Mutual home insurance - std formula w/o spec char
- Municipal water bill - std formula
- Electric utility - first six digits of std formula
- Sears credit card - std formula + month
Consider a ridiculous memory from your past. Have fun with it. Boil it down to a single sentence that’s easy to recall.
You could then build passwords that are easy to remember.
Best of all, they really would be tough to crack.