(MoneyWatch) Barely a week goes by without reports of some new hack on a prominent website. To keep your personal data and financial information safe, you often hear that you should have a strong password. In fact, I write about password security quite frequently. But a strong password might not be exactly what you think it is.
Let's get the fundamentals out of the way: All the usual rules still apply. You absolutely should not use the same password on multiple websites. And a good password still has a mix of numbers, letters -- uppercase and lowercase -- and even symbols.
But what might be less obvious is that experts say that a strong, uncrackable password has a lot less to do with that crazy mix of gobbledygook characters (in other words, complexity) and a lot more to do with length. The longer your password, the better. Indeed, if you can make a passphrase with multiple words, that's highly secure.
Check out Intel's How Strong Is Your Password? site. Enter some common passwords (or text that is similar to passwords you commonly use) and get Intel's assessment of how crackable they are. A short, strong password like 2Q1WuytMhh, for example, would take about 3 weeks to crack. Not bad. But try I always use stronG passwords! and you'll find that it would take 276 billion years to solve. The earth won't be around that long.
Photo courtesy Flickr user lamdogjunkie