The top 10 most hackable passwords– and what to do if yours is on the list
Author, comedian and maths geek Adam Spencer takes us through why numbers are so important when it comes to passwords – and everyday life.
Numbers and maths are the language we use to understand our world – and the worlds beyond. Whether it's calculating feats of incredible human achievement like say, running marathons, or saving lives using the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", or just making sure planes land safely, it's fair to say much of society would grind to a halt without the genius of maths, science and technology.
There's no getting around the fact that we humans are facing massive challenges. From climate change, to global conflict, to poverty and inequality right on our doorstep, we have work to do. Human advancement got us into this, but it can get us out, too. I hate seeing a whale wash up on a beach with 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. But after decades of inaction, we now know we have a problem with the plastic not-so-fantastic and people everywhere are stepping up and making a difference.
Continual scientific advancements mean we'll soon be able to generate energy more cleanly and cheaply, reuse or recycle our rubbish better, and clean up our oceans, waterways and cities. None of this would be possible without maths and science. Hey, that reminds me – you can read all about these things and more in the awesome 416-page stocking stuffer Adam Spencer's Numberland by, well, yours truly. Plug!
But back to the topic at hand: numbers. Let's kick things off with a seemingly innocent sequence of 8 zeroes – 00000000 – which, somewhat alarmingly was rumoured to be the US nuclear launch code for almost 20 years. (You can read more about that in my awesome, available-where-all-good-books-are-sold or on-my-website bestselling book The Number Games (plug number two!).
But before you snort and roll your eyes... hands up if any of the following look, ah, somewhat familiar to you?
Still feeling smug? Well, if "monkey", "dragon" or "iloveyou" or any number of combinations of swear words ring bells, you probably need to change your password, buddy.
The UK's National Cyber Security Centre devised the above top 10 by analysing the passwords belonging to breached accounts worldwide. It will astonish you, I'm sure, to learn that there were no 20-string random letter and number combinations there.
Look, I am judging you a little if your password of choice is 123456. But at least you're in good company: 23.3 million hacked accounts studied also used that high security, top-secret code.
Around 7.7 million people decided to protect their embarrassables with "qwerty", while 3 million people felt "password" would be sufficiently difficult for hackers to unravel.
The most common names were Michael and Ashley, and – sigh – Blink182 was the most popular musical artist. Liverpool topped the Premier League of passwords and cowboys1 – presumably in honour of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys – ranked highly in the US.
If you feel it might be time to get a bit smarter about your password, you'll be pleased to know that a little maths can help (although let's be real: maths can always help).
Consider 20 character passwords that are case sensitive, (so b is different to B) and can include letters, numbers and the 10 symbols above the numbers on a standard keyboard. You have 26 + 26 + 10 + 10 = 72 possible characters for each of the 20 positions. It turns out that this creates roughly 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 000 possible passwords. So there's your starting point – off you go.
Of course, one of those would have to be ADAMSpEnCeRisAWESOME... but that's my password, so back off!
This is an edited extract from Adam Spencer's latest book, Adam Spencer's Numberland, available soon where all good books are sold.
Author, comedian and maths geek Adam Spencer has been a breakfast radio announcer on Triple J and ABC Sydney, TV personality on everything from comedies Good News Week and The Glasshouse to weekly sports wrap the Back Page. He is a member of the Sleek Geeks Science Team with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and a lifelong number nerd. You can reach him on Twitter @adambspencer and Instagram @adam_spencer1 or visit his website at www.adamspencer.com.au.
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