Monday, November 23, 2009

Internet Life Made Easy

I was searching the Internet (as I do everyday) looking for interesting things. I found a homeschool group that I wanted to check out, so I created an account with them to have a look. From what I could see, the group didn't have much to offer, but the account creation reminded me that creating random accounts like this can get out of hand very quickly. Unless you have a notebook filled with usernames and passwords, trying to revisit sites can become frustrating as you try to recall your password (maybe even your username).

Years ago I came up with a solution that works for me, and later read about similar methods in a magazine article. The article referred to it as a "password algorithm". There are many ways to create your own algorithm. I will share the method that I use. If you decide that you are looking for a more complex (more secure) method, do a Google search for "password algorithm" and you should be able to find more advanced techniques.

As for my method:

1) First, I select a word that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I do this so that no one can guess my base word due to my hobbies/interests/possessions. For example, if I owned a Ford Taurus, using the word Taurus is a bad idea. Someone may guess that. Instead I may choose the word "crepe". For me it's a rather neutral word. I'm not especially fond of them but I don’t hate them either, so it's unlikely that someone would guess it as my word.

2) Second, I modify the word with numbers in order to make the word even harder to guess. Generally, I replace letters with numbers that look similar to those letters. It doesn’t matter how many you replace as long as you replace at least one. In this case, a "3" looks like a backward "E" so I would change the word to "cr3p3".

3) Finally, I add the first three letters of the name of the website to the end of the modified base word. For example, if I had a Yahoo account, my password would be "cr3p3yah". Then if I opened a Google account, my password would be "cr3p3goo". Both of these are rather difficult to guess but easy to remember as long as I can remember my base word and how I modify it.

Many people just use the same username/password combination for every site because it's easier. The problem is that if someone gets their hands on that password, they may begin trying random sites to see if you have an account. Some may argue that they never share their password with anyone so how can someone get it? At least a few times a year I see news stories about large corporations like MySpace or Facebook getting hacked and thousands of user profiles being stolen. If you happen to be one of these unlucky users, your Internet presence could be destroyed in a very short period of time. Even worse, if you use that same username and password for important stuff like bank accounts or paying bills online, you could be in a very precarious situation.

I'm not trying to scare anyone. For the most part I am just trying to help you find an easy way to remember all of your website passwords in a more secure way. If you are now worried about your financial accounts, you could always create a password algorithm that you use for only the most secure stuff and use a different one for the simple website accounts that you aren't necessarily worried about being hacked but may want to remember the password to get back into the account after six months of not logging in. It's true that you could always use the "forgot password" link, but we all know how frustrating that can be if we are in a hurry.

- Ryan

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