There are four main techniques hackers can use to get hold of your password:
1. Steal it. That means looking over your should when you type it, or finding the paper where you wrote it down. This is probably the most common way passwords are compromised, thus it’s very important that if you do write your password down you keep the paper extremely safe. Also remember not to type in your password when somebody could be watching.
2. Guess it. It’s amazing how many people use a password based on information that can easily be guessed. Psychologists say that most men use 4 letter obscenities as passwords and most women use the names of their boyfriends, husbands or children.
3. A brute force attack. This is where every possible combination of letters, numbers and symbols in an attempt to guess the password. While this is an extremely labour intensive task, with modern fast processors and software tools this method is not to be underestimated. A Pentium 100 PC might typically be able to try 200,000 combinations every second this would mean that a 6 character password containing just upper and lower case characters could be guessed in only 271⁄2 hours.
4. A dictionary attack. A more intelligent method than the brute force attack described above is the dictionary attack. This is where the combinations tried are first chosen from words available in a dictionary. Software tools are readily available that can try every word in a dictionary or word list or both until your password is found. Dictionaries with hundreds of thousands of words, as well as specialist, technical and foreign language dictionaries are available, as are lists of thousands of words that are often used as passwords such as “qwerty”, “abcdef” etc.’