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Password expert says he was wrong: Numbers, capital letters and symbols are useless

| Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

The man behind the 2003 report responsible for many current password guidelines says the advice is wrong.

Bill Burr, the author of an eight-page publication released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told The Wall Street Journal his previous advice of creating passwords with special characters, mixed-case letters and numbers won't deter hackers. In fact, he told the journal, the paper wasn't based on any real-world password data, but rather a paper written in the 1980s.

“Much of what I did I now regret,” Burr told The Wall Street Journal.

The problem is that federal agencies, businesses and institutions took the paper seriously — very seriously. The report turned into password protocol. Today, even though Burr's report was updated in June, we are still prompted to change our password every 90 days using at least one capital letter, symbol and number.

These combinations aren't secure, mainly because people choose predictable combinations.

The advice about frequently changing a password has been criticized since the report. A 2010 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that updating passwords often can actually help hackers identify a pattern. Another study from Carleton University said frequent changes are more inconvenient than helpful.

The better solution could be to simply use a password with four random words, because the number of letters can be more difficult to hack than a small combination of letters and special characters, the Journal reports.

Finally, a good reason to ignore those password prompts and come up with one we can actually remember.

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