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Cyber Security: Use complex passphrases instead of passwords

Allyson Cook

November 1, 2017

Tech gurus and the FBI will tell you that a password is not enough protection from being hacked—especially a bad password. One thing they recommend is upgrading your passwords to passphrases making it harder to hack into your accounts.

So, what is a passphrase? It is a sentence or phrase where you replace some of the letters with numbers and symbols. That way, you remember the phrase and can recall it when the need arises without having to refer to a piece of paper. Here are some examples of complex passphrases that are still memorable:

Meltmyface = M$1tmyf@c$

GroundhogDay = @r0undH0@8a7

StandingOutsideTheFire = St@nd1n*O_ts1d$Th$F1r$

In the examples above, letters are replaced with numbers and symbols to create what looks like a random string. Using song lyrics, scripture passages, inspirational quotes, a punch line, or the cutest mispronunciation your toddler ever uttered, can help you create a new complex passphrase that only you know. 

You can also take the first letters of an even longer phrase to create your unique passphrase. The lyric “We're off to see the wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” can be converted to Wot$twTWWoO. By using first initials and converting some letters to numbers and special characters the phrase is even more secure.

Here are some other tips to follow when creating passphrases:

1. Longer is better. The longer the phrase the harder for hackers to... you know, hack. It may be a pain to type it all in, but it’s a bigger pain to have your identity stolen or your company infiltrated. And, the more you type it, the sooner muscle memory will kick in to help with all that typing. 

2. Never use family names, birthdates, addresses (past or present) or anything else that someone can research about you. Also, if it’s in your social media profile, don’t use it. 

3. Change your passphrase regularly.

4. Use Two Factor Authentication. Think of your email as the front door of your online home. Use two deadbolts to secure it by using two factor authentication. That means using a good passphrase and a secondary authentication method.

5. Never click 'remember my password' options on websites or search engines that contain personal or credit card information. 

6. Use different passphrases for informational websites, websites containing secure data such as Amazon Prime or online banking, and your email/ desktop. I use unique ones for my accounts that contain personal or financial information and tend to use one passphrase for generic sites like blogs or professional education sites that do not contain secure data about me. 

7. Don’t use variations on the same passphrase when you update. Changing a number 1 to a 4 is easy to remember but it is also easy to hack. Mix it up and get creative. 

8. Finally, don’t write it down. You’ve seen the movies. Under the key board or in the desk drawer are terrible places to store your passphrase. 

Securing your electronic and online presence is vital to protecting your identity and financial health. Take this simple step and make it a habit starting today. 

Written by Allyson Cook

Photo by William Iven on

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