December 15, 2010, 2:37 PM — Unless you've been leading a Luddite existence--off camping in the Rockies or something--you are probably aware that Gawker was the victim of an attack which exposed passwords and led to a deluge of Twitter spam. The silver lining of this incident is that it gives us yet another opportunity to examine real-world passwords and hopefully learn a lesson or two...but don't hold your breath.
Thanks to some analysis from the Wall Street Journal, we now know that the most popular password among the exposed Gawker passwords is the perpetually popular "123456". Yes, seriously. Other popular choices include "password", "passw0rd", and "qwerty". Nobody would ever guess or crack those enigmatic secrets.
You might expect this to be a wakeup call--a clarion sounding from the rooftops that alerts people to the weaknesses of poor passwords and causes everyone to change their ways and adopt better password practices. If you do expect that, though, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
If this whole incident seems a tad déjà vu, it's because it is. In fact, it was less than a year ago that a breach of RockYou.com exposed more than 30 million passwords and provided a similar opportunity to analyze real-world password choices. The most-used password in the RockYou.com incident? You guessed it: "123456".
Granted, being able to comment on a Gizmodo post is not exactly on par with accessing a bank account, or even an e-mail account. But, even for seemingly innocuous accounts, there is reason to put forth at least some effort to create a secure password. As evidenced by the subsequent barrage of Twitter spam, a large percentage of the Gawker users also have Twitter accounts, and use the same password for both.
I am obligated to repeat the password security best practices mantra.
1. Don't use personal information like your own name, birth date, or favorite sports team.
2. Don't use any keyboard sequence such as "123456", "qwerty", or "asdfgh".
3. Don't use any word that can actually be found in a dictionary.
4. Don't try to be tricky and use a dictionary word with an obvious character substitution--like "passw0rd" instead of "password". That just means it will take 47 seconds to guess or crack your password instead of five.
5. Do use mixed character types including upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special character like exclamation points and asterisks.