Two classroom activities for teaching students about password security

Creating and managing strong, secure passwords is an essential part of life in the 21st century. I’ve recently written about how you can use a password manager to help keep your own online accounts more secure. But how can we help our students to develop the skills to create and manage their own online accounts? After all, many of us have enough trouble doing it, and we’re all grown up! In this blog post, I’ll share two sequential classroom activities that you can use to teach your students about password security. Each activity is suitable for students of most ages, simply adjust the complexity of the task to suit your class.

Want to help your students manage their passwords? Here are two classroom activities that can help. Click To Tweet

 

Activity 1: How secure is this password?

Aim

To learn which password combinations are the hardest to guess or crack.

Resources

Background information (for the teacher)

Secure passwords are difficult to guess by others or be cracked by computers designed for this purpose. Password ‘cracking’ involves a computer using a brute force attack to systematically try many password combinations until it finds the one that is your password. Simple and commonly used passwords are easily cracked.

So just how easy is it for a password to be cracked? In 2012 a password cracking machine was unveiled that could cycle through as many as 350 billion guesses per second. In eight hours, it was able to brute force every possible eight-character password combination containing upper- and lower-case letters, digits, and symbols.

The increasing amount of personal information we put on social media also makes it easier for other people to guess our passwords, including strangers who can access our social media profiles. Further, some ‘quizzes’ that distributed on social media are designed to steal passwords or password recovery answers (e.g. questions like ‘What was your first pet’s name?’ and ‘What town did you grow up in?’ are commonly used to help people recover forgotten passwords).

Steps

1. Introduce the aim of the activity. Advise students that they should not share their own passwords at any time during the activity!
2. Ask the class to suggest passwords that they think people might commonly use (both combinations – e.g. ‘password’ and categories – e.g. pet names).
3. Compare their list against the most commonly used passwords in 2017.
4. Explain to the students why it is important not to use a common password (including types) by drawing on the background information
5. Time to put the common passwords to the test and see how long it would take them to be cracked! Launch https://howsecureismypassword.net OR https://www.experte.com/password-check, enter each password and see the result.
6. Begin to use increasingly complex passwords (length and variation of characters) and see how the time frame changes. In doing this, help the students work out which numbers and symbols are easily exchangeable for letters. For example:

  •  chocolate
  • chocolatemilkshake
  • Ch0c0l@t3
  • Ch0c0l@t3M1lksh@k3!

7. Ask the students if, based on this activity, they think they should change some of their passwords? If yes, what strategies could they use make them stronger?

In this classroom activity, students will see how easy it is to crack common passwords. Click To Tweet

 

Extension for older students

An extension activity for older students could be to analyse their own or a pre-prepared social media profile (or extract) and see what clues it gives away about the person’s possible passwords or password recovery answers. If you want to develop a fake profile for this purpose, you might like this ‘Fakebook’ Google Slides template.

 

Activity 2: Design the strongest passphrase

Aim
To learn how to design a strong password that is easy to remember.

Resources

Background information (for the teacher)
Designing and remembering a strong password can be difficult! However, an easier way to do it is to use a passphrase. Here are two options for developing a passphrase.

Option 1

Write a sentence that is easy to remember. This might be a line from a song or movie, a story about a place you have been, or any other phrase you can remember.

E.g. The cat is Milo and the dog is Otis

Take the first letter from each word to make your password (including capitalisation).
E.g. TciMatdiO

Change the letters to numbers and symbols where possible.
E.g. Tc1M&td10

Can also add a symbol on the end for extra length and complexity.
E.g. Tc1M&td10!

Option 2

Put three or four totally random words together.
ToasterChocolatePetunia

Change the letters to numbers and symbols where appropriate.
T0ast3rCh0c0l@t3P3tun1@

Steps
1. Introduce the aim of the activity. Advise students that they should not share their own passwords at any time during the activity! They should also not use any of the passwords the class develops during the activity!
2. Explain to students the two ways to create a passphrase by working through examples.
3. Split the class into teams of two. Each team has a short amount of time to create a password based on a passphrase (adjust time to suit the age of your students).
4. Two teams at a time write their password on the board / into a shared document. Ask each team to explain how they came up with the password.
5. Time to vote! For each pair of passwords, have the class vote on which is stronger and discuss their reasoning.
6. Use https://howsecureismypassword.net or https://www.experte.com/password-check to check if the voting was right!
7. Ask the students to spend time at home sharing the passphrase method with their families and designing some passphrases they can use for their own passwords (and then changing them!).

Here’s a fun activity that teaches students how to design a strong password by using a passphrase Click To Tweet

 

Password management is difficult for most of us! By using these two activities with your students, you will be helping them develop knowledge and skills they can use to protect their online accounts…plus you will pick up some useful tips for yourself too!

Want to access a community of educators to discuss these ideas more? Join our online professional learning community.


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