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New guidelines for creating strong passwords

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22 August 2017

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued new guidelines for password security that turn accepted wisdom about creating long strings of  letters, numbers and symbols on its head.


NIST, a non-regulatory federal agency within the US Department of Commerce, issued the original advice in 2003 that became the global standard for password security. But it now says the advice led people to create predictably ‘complex’ passwords in a bid to remember them, which made them more vulnerable to hackers.

A former employee who has since retired said there just wasn’t enough real-word data available at the time.

Staying safe

Key changes in NIST’s new digital identity guidelines include:

  • Don’t arbitrarily mix letters, numbers and symbols to make a password. Instead, create passwords that are more memorable.
  • Single dictionary words, the user’s street address or numeric sequences such as 1234567 should be banned.
  • Organisations should screen the strength of their passwords against those used in cybercriminal dictionary attacks; a method of breaking into a password-protected computer or server by systematically entering every word in a dictionary as a password. 
  • Stop frequently changing passwords, for example each month, as it leads to poor passwords being created.

More information

Stay Smart Online has more information on how to create strong passwords for individuals and business.