This week and for most of next week, I’ve been working with my 6th graders on creating strong passwords.  Since we’re still relatively new to this whole complex password thing (remember when you only needed 4-digits?), I spend a lot of time making sure they know how to do this early on.

The most important part of creating a strong password is being able to remember it.  How many times have we forgotten what the damn password is?  Or what about when your bank makes you create a new one each month and won’t let you use the one you’ve used before?  Ugh…talk about frustrating.

I’ve got a pretty simple technique that I teach (in fact, I taught it to a friend just yesterday over coffee) that will leaving you with a complex password…that you’ll actually remember.

Six Simple Steps for Creating Strong Passwords

Keep it Simple. This one is so simple it will amaze you.  Ready? Remember the mnemonic device we learned to remember the names of the planets? You can do the same thing with your password.  Or you know that line from the song, or that band or that actor or even that movie that you absolutely love?  Use it.

Secure Password of the Week

For example:  Imagine you’re the type of person that is grumpy as all get out before your first cup of coffee

Think about that line you love from the latest Katy Perry “you’re gonna hear me roar

Or maybe you’re a die hard Dodger fan…Dodger Blue, baby!

Oh that Ryan Gossling, he can say “hey girl” to me any time.

Now that you’ve got your short phrase or word that you’ll easily remember, let’s move on to the next step

Mix of Capital and Lowercase Letters, Numbers and Symbols. Now take that simple phrase and mix it up a little.  Get creative with it.  Change some letters for numbers or symbols.  Mix up the capital and lowercase letters.  Change up the spelling a bit…make an S a Z, switch a C with a K.

Using the above examples:

grumpy as all get out = G@s@!!Get0ut

you’re gonna hear me roar = UR6un@HEARm3

Dodger Blue = >0>g3R_Blu

hey girl = #3yG!r1

Make sense?

If it helps see things more clearly, here’s a photo from the lesson with my 6th graders where they decided which symbols and letters could be used to replace certain letters.

Symbols and Letters

10 or More Characters. I remember when passwords only needed to be 4-digits long.  Then 5.  Then 8 with at least one number.  And more recently things have progressed to 8-10 characters with a number or symbol.  So I have my students aim for a minimum of 10 characters in length.  I’ll be honest, this part can be a bit frustrating (it drives my students bonkers).  Just keep in mind that you might need to get creative with your phrase and drop off a word or lose some letters.  Or you can just use the first letter of each word like here with you’re gonna hear me roar = UghmR_1969 (any number that you’ll remember will do nicely here).

Easy to Remember, Difficult to Guess. This one pretty much sums everything up.  Once you have the actual phrase or words that you’ll remember, when you swap out the letters for numbers and symbols and mix up your upper- and lowercase letters and maybe change up the spelling…well, you’ve definitely made it difficult to guess.

Use Different Passwords for Each Site. I mention this rule to my students, but it’s not as big a deal for them. But we, as adults, have all heard the horror stories about how once the hackers got into one system – our email or your credit card – they were then able to get into other systems.  Not too long ago there was a story of a guy who got hacked through his Gmail, which brought them to his Apple account, with access to his credit card and into his bank.  So the moral of the story…change that password up for each site.

But don’t worry, I have a simple rule for that one as well…let’s use that Katy Perry song that is now, thanks to this article, living in my head…you’re gonna hear me roar.   We said that our password will be UghmR_1969 (we have a mix of letters, numbers, symbols, caps and lowercase here).

Here’s how we do this: UghmR_1969 is the password we created because it’s easy to remember, right?  Now we’re going to change it for email…UghmR_1969*mail..Facebook…UghmR_1969*FB…The New York Times…UghmR_1969*NYt…Apple…UghmR_1969*mAC…work…UghmR_1969*work…your blog…UghmR_1969*blog…your bank…UghmR_1969*ciTi

You see where I’m going with this?  One simple, easy to remember phrase that follows all the rules, then a symbol and then a simple way to know what site you’re on.  This is referred to as stacking your password.

Use a Password Keeper. I’ll admit it, I don’t follow every one of these rules all the time (though I do stick to the first four).  Mostly just because I’m too damn lazy to go back to all my websites and change all of them.  But more importantly, I don’t follow all these rules because I use LastPass to keep all my passwords safe and in one place.

They work pretty simply…you create one really strong password that you remember and all your other usernames and passwords hang out for you in the Cloud waiting to fill in at your request. For your really strong password, try taking all the steps above and getting a bit more complex…maybe start with your license plate, add in a couple symbols and then a zip code or other 6-digit number that you know by heart, and follow up with the two letters of the state you were born in.

It might look like this…$5UX48W_30743_tx$

That puppy right there will give you a good mix of all the above rules and it’ll be about 15+ digits.  And since it’s easy enough for you to remember and difficult enough to guess that even if you can even leave yourself a clue taped to your computer (here’s clue for my example: car_HS_mom$$ — it would take someone for.ever to figure out what you mean…easy to remember, but difficult to guess).  And thanks to that one, you won’t have to worry about remembering all the other passwords.

The other cool things, if you decide to use LastPass (I can’t speak to other services as we’re a LastPass household)…1) you can share login information with people without actually letting them have access to the password, 2) it can securely keep your credit card info available for online purchases, and 3) it can generate (and keep track of) really long, really complex, and really random passwords for you in the places that matter (like with banking and credit cards).

Okay, I gave you a LOT of information here.  But play around with it.  No one says the next password you create has to be the best one ever.  Start with creating a new and different one for you email and your bank.  Then when you’re more comfortable with it, change up the rest.

Or do what I did and move over to LastPass – LOL.

And if you really get stuck, drop me a note and I can send you the activities and worksheets that I have my students use 😉


Photo: SimonLieschke