The man in question is Bill Burr, a former manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In 2003, Burr drafted an eight-page guide on how to create secure passwords creatively called the “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A.” This became the document that would go on to more or less dictate password requirements on everything from email accounts to login pages to your online banking portal. All those rules about using uppercase letters and special characters and numbers—those are all because of Bill.
The only problem is that Bill Burr didn’t really know much about how passwords worked back in 2003, when he wrote the manual. He certainly wasn’t a security expert. And now the retired 72-year-old bureaucrat wants to apologize.
“Much of what I did I now regret,” Bill Burr told The Wall Street Journal recently, admitting that his research into passwords mostly came from a white paper written in the 1980s, well before the web was even invented. “In the end, [the list of guidelines] was probably too complicated for a lot of folks to understand very well, and the truth is, it was barking up the wrong tree.”
Bill is not wrong. Simple math shows that a shorter password with wacky characters is much easier to crack than a long string of easy-to-remember words. This classic XKCD comic shows how four simple words create a passphrase that would take a computer 550 years to guess, while a nonsensical string of random characters would take approximately three days:…[ ]