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Good and Bad Passwords How-To

An in Depth Analysis of Good, Bad, Strong and Weak Passwords, Password Cracking Techniques and How-To Reduce Password Vulnerabilities

Passwords are important because they are still the primary key to most computer systems. At most sites, there is no greater opportunity for improving security with as small an effort than by adopting good password procedures. A Jan. 21, 2002, Information Week article, included a graph (near the page bottom) summarizing a survey of 4500 security professionals in 2001. This indicated that "Guessed Passwords" were the primary method of attack 22% of the time. A decade later other sources suggest that number is still just about right No competently selected password should ever be guessed or even cracked.

Almost no one discusses security without at least touching on passwords. Short lists of do's and dont's are common but fail to explain why a password is good or bad. Here the details of what make good and bad passwords or strong and weak passwords are covered in great detail. The relative nature strong and weak passwords will be discussed. Password cracking technology is reviewed. The impact of ever faster computers on password technology is discussed as are steps to improve password security.

This discussion focuses on UNIX including UNIX like, open source systems such as Linux and OpenBSD and also Windows. Much of what's said about UNIX will be applicable to any contemporary operating system unless these systems have issues similar to Windows. Microsoft finally fixed the LM hash compatibility issue in late 2006 and early 2007 with the release of Vista. They continue to refuse to deal with the problem of unsalted hashes two decades after the problems with their password storage was known.

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