Password strength is a measure of the effectiveness of a password against guessing or brute-force attacks. In its usual form, it estimates how many trials an attacker who does not have direct access to the password would need, on average, to guess it correctly. The strength of a password is a function of length, complexity, and unpredictability.Using strong passwords lowers overall risk of a security breach, but strong passwords do not replace the need for other effective security controls. The effectiveness of a password of a given strength is strongly determined by the design and implementation of the factors (knowledge, ownership, inherence). The first factor is the main focus in this article.
The rate at which an attacker can submit guessed passwords to the system is a key factor in determining system security. Some systems impose a time-out of several seconds after a small number (e.g. three) of failed password entry attempts. In the absence of other vulnerabilities, such systems can be effectively secured with relatively simple passwords. However, the system must store information about the user's passwords in some form and if that information is stolen, say by breaching system security, the user's passwords can be at risk.
In 2019, the United Kingdom's NCSC analysed public databases of breached accounts to see which words, phrases and strings people used. The most popular password on the list was 123456, appearing in more than 23 million passwords. The second-most popular string, 123456789, was not much harder to *****, while the top five included "qwerty", "password" and 1111111.
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