For two decades, computers have become a ubiquitous modern tool for business and individual, young and old, clever and dim, silly and serious. Passwords are an integral form of security for computers. Users open personally sensitive computer applications by first keying a strong password.

Strong password maintenance has evolved into an extreme nuisance, in that, who can remember all of them? Most people utilize one of the following methods for password maintenance:

  • A Cheat Sheet, aka Crib Sheet.
  • A Password manager program.

Not necessarily a news flash:

  • Both are irritating!

 But how can we create a strong password?

Practice note: Separate the key from the lock

Passwords are designed to buttress security and confidentiality, not emotional attachments to things we like.

Passwords fall upon themselves when they are children’s names, important family dates, hobbies, the name of the puppy with sad eyes, ABC, 123, or the word – password. These are not especially strong passwords. Other examples of letting a password fall upon itself is to store the Crib Sheet in an unsecured place, like, under the keyboard.

And why do we need to create a strong password?

Technology continues to advance, and with that cyber-criminals have developed new and improved programs to mine passwords, including:

  • Dictionary attack – which searches for common words, found in a dictionary, which are used in daily life and also in passwords. By shrewdly combining words such as ‘puppysadeyes’ may add only milliseconds before it can be cracked.
  • Brute force attack – much like a Dictionary attack only better, as it adds alpha-numeric combinations.
  • Phishing schemes continue to become more sophisticated, with realistic yet phony web pages and the broken English script has been corrected.
  • Malware may install a key logger or tracer.

Most cyber security experts remind us to regularly change our passwords. The following chart represents the amount of time required by cyber-criminals to crack passwords utilizing programs in operation today:

Password LengthLowercase OnlyUppercase and Lower Case
LettersLetters and NumbersLettersLetters and Numbers
11DaysMonthsYearsHundreds of Years
12WeeksYearsHundreds of YearsThousands of Years

Point of Consideration: Think of A Password As a Manhole Cover

Strong passwords allow only the authorized user to gain access. As part of its cyber-security defense, practitioners, staff, clients (everyone), should be reminded to change passwords regularly and design them with added complexity to avoid falling within or upon itself.

It is estimated organized street drainage and sewerage systems operated as early as 3,000 BC.

Five thousand years later, our streets are populated with openings in the pavement to allow access to more modern systems.  Utility workers enter a street opening by first removing a round manhole cover.

Manhole covers are generally round in shape so they do not fall into the hole that it covers (that is – it does not fall within or upon itself). If these covers were square or rectangular, the diagonal would be larger than one side, resulting in the covers being able to fall into the opening.

Manhole covers are designed to not fall within itself, and neither should passwords. Humans create passwords, and much like puppies with sad eyes, passwords can easily hook into our kismet. On the other hand, much like cats with diamond collars, passwords have become a target for thieves.

Engineering note: Manhole Covers are generally cast iron weighing more than 100 lbs

The round shape also allows for easier movement of a heavy item. Mechanical engineers may say the round covers are easier to manufacture. Advanced mathematicians may argue the manhole covers could be “Reuleaux Polygons1,” which are shapes of constant width whose boundaries are formed by finitely many circular arcs of equal length. More commonly, the constant width of these shapes allows their use as coins that can be used in coin-operated machines. The United Kingdom has minted seven sided 20 and 50 pence coins in the shape of a Reuleaux heptagon. The Canadian Loonie dollar coin is also a Reuleaux polygon, with 11 sides. The rotary engine found in certain automobiles is a design based upon a Reuleaux triangle.

1Named for Franz Reuleaux (1829 – 1905), mechanical engineer, known as the “father of kinematics.”

Dennis P. Benvie MS, CPA is Director, Tax and Advisory Content, for Surgent CPE. He has been in practice for more than 30 years and has been a national CPE Discussion Leader for 25 years.

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