How to create the perfect password

We’re all aware of the importance of a strong password, although the strongest are almost impossible to remember. Researchers may have found a poetic way to tackle this problem.

The conundrum of perfect passwords is one we all have to manage each day. Websites will often ask you for an eight-digit (minimum) password that contains a random selection of upper and lower case letters combined with numbers and the odd symbol, such as a dollar sign or ampersand. In theory, coming up with these passwords may be easy enough, but remembering them can almost make your head explode. In short, a strong password will be impossible to remember, but an easy-to-remember password may end up being quite weak or ‘hackable’.

However, researchers Marjan Ghazvininejad and Kevin Knight from the University of Southern California (USC) may have solved this dilemma, and have recently published a paper that advises people on how they may be able to create ‘uncrackable’, memorable passwords.

The USC researchers were inspired by a clever Xkcd comic created by Randall Munroe, which showed how a phrase consisting of four random words could make the perfect password. The example given was “correct horse battery staple”, and it’s believed to be more secure and more memorable than the combination of random letters, numbers and symbols recommended by most online security experts.

 

The theory behind the security of a random word phrase such as ‘correct horse battery staple’ is based on cryptography. According to Kevin Knight:

“The secret here is that those four random words are actually generated based on one very large random number. That random number is then broken up into segments, each of which corresponds with a word in the dictionary. It’s basically a form of cryptography. To guess the full random number, a computer might have to test billions of billions of billions of possibilities before it hits on the right one.”

Randall Munroe proposed using this large number to pick four random words, but Ghazvininejad and Knight think that the most secure and memorable formula is to use four (or more) words to create a random word poem.

They do this by assigning every word in the dictionary with a distinct code. They then use a computer program to generate a very long random number, which is broken into smaller pieces and then translated into two short phrases. The final phrase consists of two lines rhyming in iambic tetrameter. Confused? Here are some examples:

Australia juggernaut employed

the Daniel Lincoln asteroid

or

A peanut never classified

expected branches citywide

These passwords may sound simple, but Mr Knight estimates that it would take a modern-day computer around five million years to crack them. Pretty secure, huh?

They’ve even created an online password generator for people to try out. At the moment, it’s still in testing phase, so it’s advised that you don’t use them for your password until all the kinks are ironed out. In the meantime, if you’d like a poem password, you can provide Ghazvininejad and Knight with an email address and they’ll generate a secure password for you.

What do you think of this idea? Could you create your own rhyming passwords as a nifty way to remember them?

Read more The Age

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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