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Varying Degrees of Password Security

Last week we talked about creating strong passwords, but should we use different passwords for every site? It’s best practice to do just that. Do they all have to be really hard passwords? Again ideally, yes. So, how can we keep up password spreadsheet? Big sheet of paper? Password management program. Some advantages of password management programs are that many are equipped with encryption. In other words one password locks the whole list away. The bad news is if you lose or forget that password you are locked out of everything. Lists are generally bad because with access to your pc, your list is easy to get at.


I kind of like the “sheet of paper” approach. The only bad thing about that is that anyone sitting at your desk and finding your sheet can copy parts of it and then you’ve been compromised. The bottom line with this is if you do decide to manage passwords through a file on the computer or a piece of paper, treat it like you would the keys to a safety deposit box. Keep it VERY safe.

I take a bit of a different strategy. I have several (maybe 10 or so) frequently used passwords. Some of these passwords are throwaways, they protect meaningless stuff. Think about the cheap, useless locks you have on various things. CD cases, cheap briefcases, diaries. Now think about the serious deadbolt locks, usually in the real world, the bigger the lock, the more important or valuable item it’s protecting. So, mailinglist signups, low importance forums without https logins, anything that I either 1) don’t trust the site owner, 2) it’s a plain text login (no encryption, i.e. no https) and 3) it’s a “cheap win” if someone gains access. For instance, if the WORST thing someone can do is unsubscribe me from a mailing list, that’s not a big loss. The same goes for forum logins, the only benefit to gaining access would be to pose as me and post. Embarrassing, perhaps, but not usually this is not exactly worth wasting a really good password on.

So, I have 2-4 very weak passwords that I use for these.

Next up is the medium strength passwords, for those I use most of the day to day work that’s protecting moderately useful and slightly more valuable locations. I need to see https on a site to use these unless I trust the network between me and the site (and trust the site as well.) Again, I have about 4 of these…

The hard passwords I save for the most important things. These I have maybe 4 of as well. These are for the items that I would be most at a loss if it were compromised. Of course, one of the tricks if you knew me and IF you were able to find out what passwords I use and IF you were able to discern which I capitalized and which I mix case in…. you would still have to go through at least 12 combinations for each login. That would happen really quick with cracking software, but…

Anyway, that’s how I manage to keep at least some sanity when it comes to dealing with remembering passwords for all the various things I do online.

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Posted by on March 3, 2008.

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Categories: Security, Uncategorized

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