Password vs. Passphrase: Differences Defined & Which Is Better?

Learn how Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication combats data breaches, weak passwords, and phishing attacks.

A passphrase is a form of password containing multiple words with spaces between them. Passphrases can be harder to crack, easier to remember, and more secure than a password. Nearly half of all adults in the United States have had their personal information exposed by hackers. Cyber criminals are getting more sophisticated as people store more and more data online. While passwords are the traditional way to protect personal information, they are not as secure as they seem. In fact, hackers and computer programs can regularly “guess” passwords. A passphrase is a better alternative.<

Passphrase vs. password

Passwords usually contain a combination of special characters, letters, and numbers with variable lengths. Most are around 10 characters. A passphrase is basically a longer password, usually at least 14 characters in length, with spaces between words. Both passwords and passphrases can be used to encrypt data and maintain secure access to websites, software, and hardware systems.

Password defined

A password is required for access to a vast majority of online entities, including those for personal use as well as commercial and industrial purposes. Passwords are a common method for encrypting or securing data, and confidential, proprietary, and personal information. Different sites and programs have variable requirements for passwords, including lengths, the inclusion of both numbers and letters, the use of upper and lowercase letters, and special symbols. A password can look like this: 4jli$oju?A. Passwords are something that a user will create that is intended to be known only to them for access.

What is a passphrase?

A passphrase is basically a more secure form of a password. People use passphrases for the same reasons and in the same way as a password. As stated earlier, a passphrase is typically longer and contains spaces. A passphrase can also contain symbols, and it does not need to be grammatically correct. It is often best if the words in the passphrase are completely random. The passphrase meaning should not be easy to guess or a typical or common phrase. using a random phrase makes a passphrase stronger. An example of a passphrase can be “Flew cat, bo0k through there!” A passphrase should be easy to remember but hard for hackers to crack and guess.

When to use a passphrase vs. a password

Both a password and a passphrase can be made secure. But generally speaking, a strong, random passphrase is said have more entropy and therefore be more secure than a regular password. Longer passwords (14 characters or more) can also have a high level of entropy, making them more difficult to crack through brute force, but they are also harder to remember. Most passcode rules and security standards allow for the use of passphrases instead of passwords. On the whole, using a passphrase is more secure and offers better peace of mind. In either case, the FBI recommends making passwords or passphrases as long as a system will allow for optimal security. Tips for passphrase creation When creating a strong passphrase, follow these rules:

  • Do not choose a popular phrase or saying.
  • Avoid song lyrics.
  • Consider nonsense words.
  • Make the phrase at least 15 characters long.
  • Five words are better than four.
  • Add in symbols and letters.
  • Choose random words.
  • Use a different phrase for each account.

Remember that a passphrase does not need to be a proper sentence or even follow basic grammar rules.

5 reasons why a passphrase is better

  1. Passphrases are easier to remember than passwords. A random collection of numbers and symbols can be difficult to keep track of, which can mean that users often make it simpler to remember them. A passphrase is usually not as hard to remember.
  2. Passphrases are difficult to crack through brute force. Many password-cracking tools work to break down 10-character passwords. Since passphrases are longer, they can be much more secure and safe from these tools.
  3. Passwords are easily hacked by password-cracking tools and robots as well as by humans. People do not like to change passwords and tend to stick to things that they can remember, making them more easily guessed.
  4. Most major applications and OS (operating systems) allow for up to 127 characters and the use of passphrases for optimal security.
  5. A passphrase can easily satisfy complex rules and requirements for passwords, as most allow for punctuation and uppercase and lowercase letters.

References

Half of American Adults Hacked This Year. (May 2014). CNN Business.

Domain 5. (2017). Eleventh Hour CISSP (Third Edition).

FBI Tech Tuesday: Strong Passphrases and Account Protection. (May 2021). FBI Phoenix.

Password vs Passphrase. (2021). John Carroll University.