Privacy Tools: How to Build Better Passwords
Privacy Tools: How to Build Better Passwords
By Julia Angwin / propublica.org

In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy. In this series of blog posts, I try to distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into a series of useful tips for readers.

 

Passwords are the first line of defense between your private data and an attacker – whether it is a criminal hacker or a spy agency.

But most of the conventional wisdom about building passwords is terrible. People are often told they should change their passwords every three months; that their passwords should be made strong with multiple symbols and letters; and the passwords should not be written down anywhere.

Computer scientist Ross Anderson has summed up this terrible advice as “Choose a password you can’t remember, and don’t write it down.” Faced with that impossible task, most people use passwords that are easy to remember – the most popular password is still 123456 – and use it for every single account.

It’s actually better advice to choose a more secure password and write it down somewhere in a safe place. After all, it’s much less likely that someone will break into your house and steal your master password list than it is that someone will hack into your account from afar through a weak password.

However, even if you write down your passwords, you still face the difficult task of dreaming up the dozens of passwords that seem to be required for modern life. At first, I tried to make up my own passwords, but after I stumbled on this password-strength estimator, I realized that many of my homegrown passwords were still easy to crack. So, after much searching for a perfect password strategy, I came up with a two-tiered solution for building strong passwords:

  • For less important passwords – such as for my frequent flier and online shopping accounts – I used password management software called 1Password to generate and store passwords. Like its competitors, LastPass and KeePass, 1Password generates strong passwords from strings of letters, numbers and symbols and stores them on my machine in an encrypted file.
  • For more important passwords – such as the password to my 1Password vault, my e-mail and online bank accounts – I used a simple, low-tech passphrase-generating system called Diceware. It works like this: roll a six-sided die five times, then take the numbers you roll and match them up to the Diceware word list, which contains 7,776 short words. This will give you a five-word passphrase that is hard for attackers to crack, but easy to remember.

This XKCD comic nicely sums up the beauty of the Diceware approach.

 

4.0 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 11,181 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited 'Fake News' Blacklist?
Adam Johnson · 5,546 views today · The Washington Post (11/24/16) last week published a front-page blockbuster that quickly went viral: Russia-promoted “fake news” had infiltrated the newsfeeds of 213 million...
The Orwellian War on Skepticism
Robert Parry · 4,364 views today · Official Washington’s rush into an Orwellian future is well underway as political and media bigwigs move to silence Internet voices of independence and dissent, reports Robert...
Social Media Echo Chambers: Here's How Most of Us are Living in One
2 min · 3,617 views today · Americans are blocking out the friends and news sites that won't confirm their views.
Where Do You Draw the Line? (2016)
60 min · 3,456 views today · Why is the Ecuadorian government proposing to extract oil in an area frequently classified by ecologists as one of the most bio-diverse rainforest regions left intact on earth?...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,713 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Projext X: Using Leaked Documents to Reveal the NSA's New York Spy Hub, Hidden in Plain Sight
10 min · 2,537 views today · A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,320 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 2,043 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
This Short Film Plays Out Like an Epic Movie That Will Shake Your Soul - But the Movie Is Real, and We are The Actors
6 min · 1,645 views today · For next year, we need a resolution capable of confronting the crisis we face, and making a future worth fighting for. This short film looks back on the crisis and confusion...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 1,589 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
Why We Need Big Picture Activism
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 1,355 views today · Despite the countless grassroots projects already under way, the global economic juggernaut can seem too powerful to stop. But because more and more of us are becoming aware of...
Twelve Things To Remember After The US Election, From Front Line Organizers
Bill Quigley · 1,105 views today · When you find yourself in a suddenly darkened room, what do you do?   Some rush blindly to where they think the door might be.  Others stand still, let their eyes get...
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 1,059 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 921 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The Daily Show's Trevor Noah Talks With Conservative Host Tomi Lahren
14 min · 859 views today · "Tomi" host Tomi Lahren gives her take on the Black Lives Matter movement and explains why she lashed out against Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest.
How a Land High in the Western Himalayas Can Help Us Understand The Crisis of The Modern World
9 min · 623 views today · This is a clip from The Economics of Happiness. Watch it here. It's a brilliant film that was easy to put at the top of our list of the top 100 documentaries we can use to...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 587 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 413 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Who's Really to Blame for Fake News? Look in the Mirror, America.
Neal Gabler · 369 views today · Consider for a moment the oxymoronic concept of “fake news,” which we have been hearing so much about lately. This isn’t your typical disinformation or misinformation —...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Privacy Tools: How to Build Better Passwords