Being Modern: Passwords

Halt! Who goes there? It's a refrain we all know from childhood, the stuff of fairy tales and war films (alongside a bit of "Hände hoch!"). And how did one respond? Friend – or foe. Of course, it wasn't too difficult to crack that system and lie to get behind enemy lines (at least on the playground). As far as systems go, it ranks right up there with using "1234" to unlock your phone or "password" as the password on your PC.

According to a Business Week report earlier this year, it would take a hacker just 10 minutes to solve a six-letter code that uses only lower-case symbols; on the other hand, a nine-symbol key that uses both letters and numbers would take 44,530 years to unpick. And how many crims have the time for that?

There's just one problem with those longer passwords – the ones which, mixing characters and numerals, don't make any sense except, perhaps, to the algebraically inclined – and that's that they're darn tricky to remember. It's little surprise to discover that the proportion of all helpdesk calls that are password-related is 30 per cent.

But even more annoying is that, even when you have remembered the formulae for your computer, your bank account, your work email, your home email, etc etc, you're still not safe in this era of hacking – mobile and otherwise.

Juniper Research reveals that there have been 365 data-loss incidents involving 126,727,474 records already this year. Some have been big news: in April, for instance, gaming geeks around the world squealed as the Sony PlayStation network was raided, compromising more than 70 million passwords. Others have been less publicised – though equally embarrassing for the organisations involved. In June, for example, the global military alliance Nato had to warn the more than 11,000 subscribers to its e-Bookshop service that hackers had stolen its database.

At which point, you might well wonder why you didn't just choose an obvious password you'd remember in the first place and given your noggin a deserved rest.