Passwords for Scientists

Viagra structureRemembering complicated, hopefully strong, passwords is a pain. Writing them down or saving them in some kind of file defeats the object, especially if you work in an open office or do not password protect said file. The best passwords are usually a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols, something that science is very good at.

If you’re a mathematician an engineer, or a chemist, for instance, you should be able to take the above thought to its logical conclusion. For instance, you might use the formula for working out the Fibonacci sequence or a acceleration due to an applied force for instance.

Chemists have millions of linear chemical formulas to work from. Just pick a compound. Taxol, the anticancer drug, molecular formula C47H51NO14. For extra safety, you could reverse it or choose to miss out the first and last letters, for instance, giving you 41N15H74. That would make a relatively strong password, all you have to do is make sure you remember your chosen compound and the algorithm to modify it.

Check out for more examples, you could choose from some ten million compounds. Of course, you don’t have to be a chemist to use this technique. Incidentally, before any crackers attempt a bruteforce attack on this site using that database of 10 million compounds, remember two things: (a) ChemSpider is not the only database there is CAS, PubChem, ChEBI and dozens of others (b) We don’t actually use this technique here.

If you’re worried about how strong your password is against a bruteforce attack check out this post, and also have a look to see if you’re using any of the obvious passwords and then avoid them!

You may be interested to know that there is one instance when it’s actually better not to use a password on a Windows machine. Not setting a login password actually makes it impossible to “login” from the internet to that machine. But, this post on hacking a Windows account makes for worrying reading nevertheless.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Photographer and musician.