Passwords (and how NOT to have a bad one)

In more than 10 years of doing what I do, I’ve never met more than a handful of people who used good passwords. I wish I could make every person understand how incredibly important this is. Bad passwords are how you get hacked, get your identity stolen, and much more. Here are three simple rules:

  • If your password has readable words in it, it’s bad. Example: prettyflowers123 is a TERRIBLE password. Your password MUST be random numbers (upper and lower case, letters, and symbols to be of any protection at all.
  • The excuse of “But I can’t remember hard passwords” won’t save you when you get hacked. You have to try, and I’m going to give you some tricks to help you.
  • Never use the same password for multiple things.

Okay, that’s the negative part. Now let’s talk about how to fix the problem you already have. Take the example I gave earlier (prettyflowers123). Now look at this: Pr3ttyfl0wers123!. Before you panic, take a breath. It’s the same password, but with some very creative substitutions. I bet if you look closely, you’ll see the words are still in there. I’m going to give you my list of substitutions, but you can always use your own. All you have to remember are the substitutions. Oh, and when you hand-write these, they look even more like the original words. If you keep a written record of passwords, write the “normal” version in your book, but make the substitutions when you use it. That way, no one who gets your cheat sheet gets the actual password.

Okay, why these particular subtitutions? Well, let’s look at a few. 3 looks like a capital E backwards, the + symbol looks like a t. 1 looks like a lower case L. 0 and O…well, that’s obvious. I’m including a full table of some common ones below. If you don’t understand this concept, set up a time with me and we’ll have a tutoring session. I can’t stress how important this is.

Password managers are another great option. You only have to remember one master password and the others are stored by an online service. This is what I do with my own passwords. Most charge a small annual fee for multiple computers, but are free if you only use them on one device. Take a look at LastPass and DashLane. Both are good password managers.

Suggested Substitutions for Passwords

E or e – use 3
G or g – use 9
H or h – use 4
I or i – use !
L or l – use 1
O or o – use 0
Q or q – use 9
S or s – use 5
T or t – use +
W or w – use vv (two v’s)
X or x – use *
Z or z – use 2