Passwords – Did Gawker do us a favor?

I wrote a posted on how to create strong passwords at the beginning of the year:

The Quandary of Passwords, part 1 – It’s not hard to have a good secure password!

but Gawker getting hacked brings up some interesting points I didn’t cover in detail before.   People may spend the time to create a good strong password, but then they use that one password everywhere! If you trust the all the sites to never get hacked I guess it isn’t a huge deal, but as Gawker proved you can’t believe that!  


If you ever posted on any of their properties (which includes Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Gawker, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Kotaku, Deadspin, and Fleshbot) then your user name, email, and password was posted on the BitTorrent site Pirate Bay.  If you are not sure and want to check if your email and password has been published you can check at  


The Gawker hack shows how important it is not to use passwords over and over.  I mentioned in my password post that, if you have a bad memory like me, by using a simple algorithm you can add something you can remember about the site you are on to a good complex password to make it unique. In this way every site you go to has it’s own unique strong password and it is still pretty easy for you to remember.  For example, look at the complex password I created in my first posting, 1L0>3Y0u!  That is a good easy to remember password (maybe too short though).  So now come up with an algorithm to use with it.  For example say you are on CNet’s site – how about adding the name of the site to the end of the password?  In this example, cnet is the site, so the password becomes 1L0>3Y0u!cnet   Even better if you can handle adding more to the end of the password and throw some more symbols in the middle, for example say 1L0>3Y0u!cnet#1h@t3y0u  Or another example say for the New York Times website becomes 1L0>3Y0u!nyt#1h@t3y0u  See, pretty easy to remember and hard to guess! 


Of course if someone learns your algorithm they will be able to guess your password, so it is not full proof.  But like I said before, depending on the risk of the site, I use different passwords. Maybe it is ok to use the same password for the New York Times site, the Washington Post site, and CNet, right?  What is the real harm that can happen?  For facebook and twitter I am more careful because of the damage that could be done. And for sites like my banking I use a totally unique password with nothing to do with any of my other passwords. 


If you need help for those more secure passwords another suggestion is using mnemonics (like using Roy G. Biv to remember the colors in the rainbow). Using any word from the dictionary as your base for your password isn’t the best practice.  There are a ton of scripts used to hack passwords that start with the words in the dictionary. And my little trick of swapping out numbers and symbols for vowels is pretty well known. That is why my Sys Admin friend uses a pass phrase that he turns into an acronym to create his passwords.  Normally a very dirty mnemonic. The longer the better, but you have to be able to remember it!  I won’t repeat any of his, but for example let’s use the pass phrase “Facebook doesn’t believe in privacy and wants to be the number 1 social networking site in the world” and then turn that into an acronym “FBdbip&wtbt#1snsitw”  Now that is a great strong password for your facebook password!  Think you can remember that?  And like I said, he uses really dirty mnemonics, I have actually heard him chuckle when typing his password.  How often do you get to enjoy a password?


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Author: yourcto

Senior Software Eng Exec / VP Product Management - LinkedIn: