How to Create Secure, Unique Passwords that are Easy to Remember

It is common knowledge that passwords should be:

  • Unique to each site
  • Regularly rotated
  • Over eight characters in length
  • A mixture of letters, numbers, capitalized characters, and special characters
  • Not related to your name, your personal details, or the names of friends, pets, or family members

What is less common knowledge is a means of actually creating and remembering these secure sets of passwords. Thankfully, it is not very difficult to create a unique set of passwords that revolves within reasonable timeframes. Let us guide you through the process.

Step 1: Create a Theme

It is far easier to remember your passwords if they revolve around a theme.

Examples of such themes include:

  • Things you would like to give to your mother/father/boyfriend/girlfriend/etc.
  • Something your grandmother used to say instead of swearing
  • A line from one of your favorite songs, movies, or heroes

Step 2: Create a Password Phrase Around the Theme

Your theme can then be translated into a phrase.

This phrase may come out as:

  • I would like to give my mother flowers
  • Oh, GO….T down in that hole and couldn’t get out!
  • It is most unwise for people in love to marry

Step 3: Add Variations to Each Phrase

Once you have a phrase related to your theme, create a variation for every account you regularly use.

You may vary your phrase from account to account by switching out one of its words, or by using a new phrase related to a central theme for each new account.

Should your theme be about things you want to give your mother, variations might be:

  • I would like to give my mother flowers
  • I would like to give my mother a new home
  • I would like to give me mother support and love
  • I would like to give me mother a new refrigerator

Variations of a theme related to a phrase with which you are uniquely familiar could involve swapping out parts of that phrase:

  • Oh, GO….T down in that hole and couldn’t get out!
  • Oh, GO….T down in that basement and couldn’t get out!
  • Oh, GO….T down in that cubicle and couldn’t get out!
  • Oh, GO….T down in that yacht and couldn’t get out!

Variations of a theme revolving around quotes from a movie would involve choosing clips of unique quotes for each account. Should your theme revolve around quotes by George Bernard Shaw, some of your choices might be:

  • It is most unwise for people in love to marry
  • All progress depends on the unreasonable man
  • I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig
  • Forget about likes and dislikes. They are of no consequence.

The perk of building a theme around great quotes is it prompts you to memorize some splendid phrases!

Tip: Choose variations that you can easily associate with a particular site

Whether you tweak the same phrase over and over or choose a new phrase (from a related collection) for each online account you maintain, be sure that you can easily associate it with that account and site and not constantly mix it up with your other accounts.

For example, if your phrase is going to include a revolving reference to a random place, try to think of a place that you can easily visually associate with that account- perhaps the name of a local office complex for LinkedIn, a popular club for Facebook, a local marketplace for Amazon, your favorite restaurant for Yelp, and so on.

If your phrase is a quote or line, try to choose a quote that is somehow applicable to your account. For example, you might select a quote related to the rat race for LinkedIn, one related to wealth for your online banking site, and one related to people sharing too much about themselves for Facebook.

Step 4: Turn the Unique Phrases into Codes

Now that you have a unique phrase for each account you regularly use that is easy to remember, it is time to translate each into something of a shortened code containing all the elements of a strong password.

Some general approaches:

  • Turn your phrase into an acronym, just using the first letters from each word
  • Make simple rules about when and where you substitute letters for numbers (e.g. I always substitute the first A, I, or O for 4, 1, or 0)
  • Make simple rules about when and where you substitute letters or words for special characters (e.g. I always substitute “$” for s, or I will always use & for “and”)
  • Make simple rules about when and where you use acronyms instead of spelling words out (e.g. I only spell out the first and last words, or I only spell out the word I switch out for each different account)
  • Make simple rules about where you capitalize (e.g. I always capitalize the first letter, as well as the letter representing the word I switch out for each new account)

Here are some examples of how phrases might be converted:

I would like to give my mother flowers

  • Iwould<32givemyMflowers
  • iwltgmmFL0W3R5
  • IWL2giveMMflowers!

Oh, GO….T down in that hole and couldn’t get out!

  • ohgotdowninthatH0L3acgo!
  • 0GTITH&CG!
  • OhgdinHOLE&cg0!

It is most unwise for people in love to marry

  • IIMUFPIL2M!
  • ItismostunwiseFPI<3TM
  • iimUNWI$E4pil2m

To make things easy to remember, ‘translate’ all phrases into codes using the same methods.

Step 5: Set Up a Password Recovery Document Only You Will Understand

Because your passwords are built around a theme, you do not need very detailed reminders in order to remember passwords you have forgotten.

If your password phrases are as follows:

  • I would like to give my mother flowers
  • I would like to give my mother a new home
  • I would like to give me mother support and love
  • I would like to give me mother a new refrigerator

Reminders could be:

  • They smell good
  • 234 Random Street sure is looking shabby…
  • I need to be there for her
  • To hold her famous cheesecake

If your passwords phrases are:

  • It is most unwise for people in love to marry
  • All progress depends on the unreasonable man
  • I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig
  • Forget about likes and dislikes. They are of no consequence.

Reminders might be:

  • Stupid move for young couples
  • Difficult people
  • Swine
  • Personal preferences

Set Up a Calendar Reminder to Refresh Your Passwords

Once you have established your theme and password creation heuristics, it is time to create a habit of switching out the theme on a revolving basis. Though the theme of your passwords must revolve, your methods of translating phrases into codes can remain the same.

So that you do not forget to make the switch, set up reminders (a note in your calendar may be easiest) that repeats every three months or so.