You might’ve heard of the LinkedIn and security breaches that took place recently. Not to mention the thousands of websites that have been hacked till now. Nothing is invulnerable to hacking. And when something like that happens, passwords are leaked.

Choosing a good password is essential. A good password generator can give you the best blend of alphanumeric and symbolic characters, making up a strong password. There are a variety of password generators out there, but not many people know that there’s one built right into Mac OS X Lion. Read on to see how you can generate a strong password without any third party application.

To do this, open System Preferences. Click “Users & Groups”.

Now click your account name, and click “Change Password “. You might also have to click the lock in the bottom left corner, and enter your password before you can make any changes.

If you want to change an already existing password, enter your current password in the “Old password” field. If there isn’t a password (or if you don’t want to change your password and just want to see how the password generator works, leave this field blank). Next, look at the button in front of the “New password” field (it looks like a key).

Press this button, and the Password Assistant will appear.

This is where the fun begins. This utility can generate a password based on some given choices. For instance, you can ask it to generate a password which is memorable, alphanumeric, or only numeric, completely random, or even an FIPS-181 compliant password.

First, select how strong you want the password to be, and then choose from a variety of passwords which will be generate. Although the aim of the password assistant is to generate a password for the computer itself, but you can use this utility to generate a password for any of your online accounts as well. Click the ‘Type’ drop down menu to select the type of password you want to generate. Let’s try generating an alphanumeric password (i.e. containing Letters & Numbers). Use the ‘Length’ slider on the bottom to adjust the password strength.

The password strength is indicated by the ‘Quality’, which turns red if the password is weak, and green if it is a strong one (depends on the length of the password as well).

Now you can see if the generated password suits your needs, or you can click the ‘Suggestion’ drop down to see some more variations of passwords based on your specified settings. The same settings apply to all the types of password that this utility can generate (memorable, alphanumeric, numeric, etc.).

Although the quality of the password is dependent on how far you drag the slider, it is not a rule of thumb. For example, if you’re generating a password based on numbers only, no matter how far you drag the slider, the indicator will not show that the password is strong enough. That’s because you’re limiting the password’s content to numbers only, and a numeric password is easy to crack. You have to think like a hacker or a bad guy. Think what type of password will be easier to crack, and which one would be difficult.

Some people won’t prefer to use an automatically generated password (because such passwords are a bit difficult to memorize). No problem. You can create your own password and see how strong it is. Just select “Manual” from the drop down menu, and enter in some password you’d like. The strength indicator will show you how strong or weak the password is. If the password is a word (any word that comes in your mind), the ‘Tips’ section will warn you that the password that you’ve entered is ‘in the dictionary’, and the Quality of the password will appear to be very poor (i.e. low strength).

Even if you try to be l33t and enter a word “L1k3 tH15”, it will be recognized by the dictionary (which means it can also be cracked).

Don’t compromise over your password, it’s the key to your online identity. Why does it matter, you’d ask. Like it was mentioned earlier, you have to think like a password cracker. Your password should not be crackable. Hackers use special softwares, which use word lists (dictionary) to identify words or phrases in the password, and makes password cracking easier. So don’t use a password with words identifiable by a dictionary. Just mix words, avoid separating them using hyphen or any other symbol, and it will become a strong password. You can even create strong passwords like this one.

Yeah, that’s my favourite song, by the way!

So, in short, using a weaker password is not recommended. Although you can generate a strong password and be satisfied, but that’s not helpful either. You’re probably wondering why is that so?
That’s because you might generate a strong password using a password generator, but you’ll also have to memorize that password!

The moral of the story is, use a moderately sized, memorable, yet strong password. Play with the password assistant and you’ll be able to find one that matches your needs.

So, now let’s see who has the strongest password. Share your passwords in the comments (nah, just kidding!). Tell us some tips & ideas to generate a strong password (whether using an application to automatically generate one, or manually crafting up your own password). Off to the comments section.