IT intelligence: security

Robin Fisk explains why passwords might soon be a thing of the past.

How many passwords do you have to remember? Most websites depend on user names and passwords for authentication and, with more of our lives being conducted online, we are faced with more to remember. Passwords are not meant to be easily guessed either, so memorising them becomes difficult. A 'strong' password will contain a mixture of letters (in a mixture of upper and lower case), numbers and symbols, if permitted. They should be at least eight characters in length and it is advisable to change them from time to time.

Security analyst Bruce Schneier's recent password analysis of showed that the message about strengthening our passwords is getting through.

The passwords were gained from a 'phishing' page that fooled users into thinking they were logging into Myspace. In fact, their credentials were being saved for other purposes. Analysis showed that the average password is a healthy eight characters long and is likely to contain both numbers and letters. Schneier dryly observed that users must have learned something about security: the most common password used to be 'password'; now it is 'password1'.

However, remembering passwords could one day be a thing of the past thanks to Microsoft's InfoCard technology. You will maintain a range of personalised online access 'cards' containing different types of personal information for different purposes. When a site requests login, personal or payment information, the InfoCard interface pops up on your computer, presenting you with your wallet of cards - you select the appropriate one. Importantly, the website provider will not need to know your payment details.

You may not need to remember those passwords for much longer, but until then, avoid using 'password1'.

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