ShareThis Page

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.