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How to create safe passwords for free

How many passwords do you currently have? With Windows, Wi-Fi, email, bank, credit card, iTunes, ebay, Skype, online stores and registered software, it could easily run to triple figures.

It’s clearly impossible to remember so many passwords, so the temptation is to use the same one for everything. That’s a really bad idea, though. You might be happy to tell a friend the password to your Wi-Fi network, but do you want to be giving them your email or bank password in the process? With the recent hack of Gawker showing that people commonly use easy-to-guess passwords, having secure passwords has never been so important.

There are various software and online applications for storing and managing passwords, but they can be fiddly. We’ve devised a system that’s free, secure and keeps you in full control.

1. Create a spreadsheet

Fire up Excel, or whatever you want to use to make notes. Create some column headings across the top: Service, Username, Password, Registered email, and Notes. Format the text and adjust the column widths as necessary.

2. Think up short, memorable pass-phrases

Come up with a set of short, memorable passwords. These might be real words, but as always, less guessable characters are safer. Spelling a word with numbers inserted, such as t4b1e, is one trick. Another is to turn a phrase into an acronym, such as oidltbbts – short for “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside”. As you think of them, devise codenames so you can write them down without anyone being to decipher them. “short”, “medium” and “long” work well, and will never be deciphered. You might also need a 4-digit or 6-digit pin at times, so come up with a couple of these, along with suitable codenames. We’ve shown some examples below but don’t ever write your passwords down anywhere.

3. Record passwords using your codenames

Now you can record all your passwords using the codenames you devised. For passwords that really matter, use combinations. For example, the email password might be shortthree, which we know is really str1n9036912. Don’t forget to update your live passwords at the same time – and be really careful not to make any mistakes. Don’t worry if the resulting passwords seem impenetrably complex at first – your fingers will soon memorise how to type them quickly. If you run out of unique combinations, slot in extra un-encrypted characters, such as long22short.

4. Sort to add new passwords

If you’re using Excel, sort the entries alphabetically by clicking on the header for column A and dragging across to E to select all five columns. Hit the A-Z button in the toolbar, or in the Ribbon under the Home tab. You’ll need to repeat this each time you add a new password to the bottom of the list.

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