What Is a Code Word?

Lori Kilchermann

A code word is a word used for identification purposes and is recognized as being known only by the creator. Also known as a password or security word, the code word is often used to access critical information sites such as banking sites and credit card information sites. Online auction and shopping sites often require a code word to identify the user as a legitimate customer who is authorized to make purchases or sales on the website. Most sites recommend using a unique password on every site to prevent access to all of a person's information by cracking one password.

Code words, or passwords, are used to verify identity by online sites.
Code words, or passwords, are used to verify identity by online sites.

There are variations of security levels given to all code word uses. The most secure words include a combination of both letters and numbers, making them more difficult to decipher and break than a common spelling of only a word. To create the most secure code word, a larger combination of letters and numbers should be used. Much like a lottery number, a longer list of characters is more difficult to match or decode than a shorter version. This information is lost on many users who choose instead to use a short code word in order to save time logging in and remember it more easily.

Online auction sites often require a code word to identify the user as a legitimate customer.
Online auction sites often require a code word to identify the user as a legitimate customer.

It is advised to avoid pet and family names when choosing a password since these can commonly be the easiest to crack. Birthdays, anniversaries and commonly-known special days for the user should also be avoided when assigning a new password to any account. The most secure systems often change the code word on uneven intervals to discourage the attempted cracking of the code by unauthorized users. Any suspicious activity on a website or account should result in the changing of the code word to avoid further intrusion into any accounts. It is also recommended that no code words be given to online requests, regardless of the reason, without contacting the alleged requesting agency by phone first for verification purposes.

If choosing a code word for any account and the word is already in use, it is not advised to alter the word by one letter or number since the holder of the original word is likely to mistype the word and accidentally access an account. A password is often case-sensitive, meaning that the word must be typed exactly in the same uppercase or lowercase letters as first assigned. This can be a good method of creating a word that is difficult to decipher. By alternating between uppercase and lowercase letters, the word can become very individual and secure.

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Discussion Comments


We used to use our own code words at work so that customers had no idea we were really talking about them. We might call a crying child a "clean-up", for example, and someone would get on the intercom and call for a "clean-up on aisle 5". That would tell a sales associate to walk over to aisle 5 and casually make contact with the family.

We had other codes, too. If we suspected someone was shoplifting, we'd ask "Mr. Brown" to call housewares or toys or whatever department the potential shoplifter was located. I don't believe any of our customers ever figured out our secret code words.


When I think of code words, I think of innocent sounding words that are used as substitutes for the real thing. I've heard stories about WWII spies who used a relative as a code word for a known spy. A message might read "I saw my mother leaving town, but her sister wasn't with her", for example. To the military leaders getting that message, "mother" may have meant a chief spy, and "sister" meant his second-in-command.

I remember hearing a story about a coded message that read "My father is deceased. Please send flowers". It was intercepted, but no could understand the secret code words. Finally, another message was sent back to the spy: "Is our father deceased or dead?". That's when the codebreakers knew it was a encrypted message.

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