Think your password is secure enough?
You may want to think again. In 2014, nearly half of Americans had their personal info exposed by hackers – and that doesn’t even count the many companies that experienced breaches.
And with more and more businesses storing their information in the cloud and using SaaS solutions like business intelligence and hr software platforms, keeping your information safe becomes even more important.
Selecting an obscure and complex password and changing it frequently can spell the difference between keeping your data secure and having your personal information stolen. We’ve gathered insights and advice to empower you to tighten up your online security – and keep hackers out of your personal business.
To get started, we set out to discover just how quickly a seasoned cracker could “brute-force” various types of passwords (systematically check combinations until finding the correct one) based on factors such as length and character types. We also created an interactive feature that lets you estimate how long it would take someone to crack a password now compared with how long it took in the past. If you come up with an idea for a potential password, our tester can tell you just how secure it is. Just how many days, weeks, or years worth of security an extra letter or symbol make? How does password strength change over time? The answers just might surprise you.
How strong is a typical password now – and how strong was it in the 1980s? Enter a word (not your current password) and drag the slider to select a year to find out how long it would take for someone to crack the term if it were your password. It could take anywhere from infinite time to a millennium to mere fractions of a millisecond.
You can turn the “word list” function on or off as you test passwords. This tool works by cycling through a word list containing common words and passwords and then evaluating other factors such as character types. If you enter a password not on the word list, the cracking time will not be affected. But if your password is on the word list, it greatly affects cracking time.
Note: The interactive tool is for educational purposes only. Although it does not collect or store your passwords, you should avoid using your current password.
How long should your password be?
When it comes to passwords, one thing is certain: Size matters. Adding a single character to a password boosts its security exponentially. In a so-called “dictionary attack,” a password cracker will utilize a word list of common passwords to discern the right one. The list above shows the difference that adding characters can make when it comes to security.
For instance, if you have an extremely simple and common password that’s seven characters long (“abcdefg”), a pro could crack it in a fraction of a millisecond. Add just one more character (“abcdefgh”) and that time increases to five hours. Nine-character passwords take five days to break, 10-character words take four months, and 11-character passwords take 10 years. Make it up to 12 characters, and you’re looking at 200 years’ worth of security – not bad for one little letter.
alpha and numberic characters
Combining numbers and letters rather than sticking with one type of character dramatically enhances password security. A string of nine letters or numbers takes milliseconds to crack. Add a single letter, and your password may become cryptic enough to thwart password crackers for nearly four decades.
However, it’s not as simple as swapping your “e” for a “3” or adding a number at the end of a string of letters. Password attacking methods actually take advantage of those common habits. Your best bet is to simply make your password less predictable and more complicated.
asci, lowercase, and numeric characters
Combining several types of characters is an extremely effective way to make your password more cryptic. A simple, common word can be cracked in fractions of a millisecond. Inject a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols (think @, %, and #), and your password can be secure for more than a decade.
password strength over time
Not every security issue comes down to password character types and length – time is also a major factor. Over the years, passwords weaken dramatically as technologies evolve and hackers become increasingly proficient. For example, a password that would take over three years to crack in 2000 takes just over a year to crack by 2004. Five years later, in 2009, the cracking time drops to four months. By 2016, the same password could be decoded in just over two months. This demonstrates the importance of changing passwords frequently.
what if you get hacked?
One morning, you open your email, and everything has gone haywire: Friends are chatting you to say they’ve received spam from your address. Your login history looks odd. You have a pile of bounce-back messages in your inbox and a bunch of strange messages in your sent box. You’ve been hacked – so what should you do?
First, recover your email account, and change your password (use our guidelines to formulate a strong one). Complete all the steps, such as changing security questions and setting up phone notifications. Because email is filled with personal information, you should also notify your bank, PayPal, online stores, and any other accounts to discern whether a breach has occurred. Be sure to change other passwords as well. Finally, notify your contacts in case emails sent from your account have compromised their information too. While not getting hacked at all is the best-case scenario, promptly taking these steps can make the best of a bad situation.
As time goes on, it only becomes more likely that your password will be hacked – putting your most personal information at risk. By taking a few steps to enhance your password, you can exponentially minimize the risk of a breach. When it comes to passwords, size trumps all else – so choose one that’s at least 16 characters. And be sure to choose a mix of character types (numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and symbols) to further enhance its security.
What else can you do? Steer clear of words found in the dictionary, pronouns, usernames, and other predefined terms, as well as commonly used passwords – the top two in 2015 were “123456” and “password” (yes, you read that right). Also, never use the same password in different places (that forgotten account at a site you never use could lead to a bank account breach). Consider using a password generator in order to get a complex password with no discernible pattern to help thwart password crackers. Finally, if memorizing long strings of characters proves too taxing, consider adopting a password manager that stores all your passwords. No password is perfect, but taking these steps can go a long way toward security and peace of mind.
Using processor data collected from Intel and John the Ripper benchmarks, we calculated keys per second (number of password keys attempted per second in a brute-force attack) of typical personal computers from 1982 to today.
The results from our interactive feature may differ from those of other online password-testing tools due to factors such as different equations, processors, and word lists.
Our data are based on the following equations:
Number of possible character combinations:
(Password Type)^(Password Length)
Password Type is the number of possible characters.
1/((1-Efficiency Constant)+(Efficiency Constant/Processor Cores)) The Efficiency Constant we used is 0.99, and we assume that 99% of the processor’s operations can be dedicated to the password crack.
Processor Frequency * Effective Cores
Keys Per Second:
GFLOPS/Encryption Constant (gathered and calculated from John the Ripper benchmarks).
Time in seconds:
Seconds = Combinations/KeysPerSecond
Feel free to share the images and interactive found on this page freely. When doing so, please attribute the authors by providing a link back to this page and Better Buys, so your readers can learn more about this project and the related research.