What is Password Strength?

Jacob Queen

Password strength is a measurement of how difficult it is to figure out a person’s password. People generally enhance their password strength by avoiding obvious password choices or adding numbers and letters to existing passwords. Poor password strength can lead to identity theft and hacking of Internet accounts. Some websites require certain elements to ensure that a person’s password strength is sufficient.

A sign in interface with a username and password.
A sign in interface with a username and password.

When setting up a password, many people make obvious mistakes, like using their own name or the names of their loved ones. Another common password strength error is when people use their birthdays or memorable number sequences like 1234. Many hackers use some of the more common password choices when trying to gain access to people’s Internet accounts, so when a person uses one of these passwords, they are generally taking a risk.

Advanced computer users may create a program to generate a random password.
Advanced computer users may create a program to generate a random password.

Hackers often use a so-called “brute force” program when hacking into someone’s account. Brute force hacks use lists of username and password combinations. Sometimes a hacker may have a list of more than 10,000 passwords and usernames in a given list. The program will try all these passwords and usernames in combination with each other. In many cases, the hackers will get lucky, and a few of the passwords will work, giving them access to someone’s private account information.

Sites that are frequently hacked will often try to set up protections. Sometimes they will be sensitive to multiple failed attempts to log in from a particular location. When this happens, they may ban that person’s location temporarily or permanently. Some brute force hackers use proxy sites, which give the appearance of log-in attempts from many different locations, and this can sometimes defeat these kinds of protections.

Some websites protect themselves from password hacking by forcing their members to accept a complex pre-chosen password. Others may require their members to include a combination of digits and letters to ensure that the password is relatively unique. Some people dislike these kinds of restrictions, because complex passwords can be harder to remember.

One thing that can be dangerous is using the same password on too many websites. If a person has a single password that he uses too frequently, a hacker can take the password from one successful attempt and use it on other websites, gaining access to more of the individual’s private information. For this reason, it is generally considered wise to use a different password for every site a person visits, particularly if the site has important private information or if it could allow someone to gain access to a person’s funds.

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