I have a password that contains eight asterisks

At this very moment, someone could be watching your every move, directly through your computer.

PEEK-A-BOO! No, it's not me. I have much, much better things to do, like collecting the Iowa quarter and playing Monopoly at McDonald's.

Unfortunately for you, other people not only have that extra time to hack into your machine, they enjoy doing so. Yes, I realize it's hard to believe someone would rather attempt to ruin all your useless files rather than collect the four railroads off fast food soft drink cups, but it's true.

I could go into detail about how the hackers get in, but honestly, I tried to research it, and I fell asleep. I also determined that no matter what you do, a good (or deviant, depending on how you look at it) programmer will find a way to get in. If you are hooked up to the Internet (which you must be, if you're reading this!), there is some level of vulnerability to your machine.

There is, however, one thing you can do. Really, it's the one thing you MUST do if you plan to stand a chance. You must be able to create a good password for the computer itself, as well as most applications and websites that require logins.

Early attempts at good passwords failed miserably. Cavemen used "fire," but after it was actually invented, that idea went down in flames. Archimedes used the numerical representation of pi, but it was so long (indefinite), he could never remember it. And George Washington lost his password, "woOd2th" in the Delaware River.

The first lesson in creating a password is this:

  • Make your password something you can remember

But this is tricky, because if your password is just "password," you can remember it, but it's not very effective. So here's the second rule:

  • Don't make your password any actual word, in any language

It is acceptable, though, to combine two real words, which is seen about 4,652,091 times a year when you open your mail and receive another CD from AOL or Earthlink. Those passwords are good, but they can be better. Check out rule three:

  • In your password, include both upper and lower case, throw in a random amount of numbers and even include a symbol when necessary

Washington had a license plate-type password (Get it, wood tooth?), which would not appear in any sort of dictionary. But even his password doesn't pass the fifth test:

  • Make the password at least eight characters long

Just don't make it too long (see Archimedes).

That wraps up the basic rules, but check out this site for common suggestions, do's and don't's and a password meter, to test out some of your favorites. Or, if you're having trouble generating your own, try multicians.org or WinGuides.com. Multicians.org generates eight-letter, pronounceable strings through a Java application, while WinGuides allows you to define a number of additional options.

You may not even realize this, but hackers can find numerous ways into your computer system. The one surefire way to deter them is by using acceptable passwords where applicable. I have locked my computer down pretty well, which allows me to continue the never-ending quest to collect both Boardwalk and Park Place.