Category Archives: Opinion

Adobe password breach as the world’s greatest crossword puzzle

Adobe was recently breached and 150,000,000 user accounts were stolen. Adobe was following the one of the worst practices of password storage — reversible encryption (rather than hashing with a salt using a good, slow algorithm like bcrypt). A very, very old throwaway password of mine was among those leaked.

XKCD has referred to this breach as The Greatest Crossword Puzzle in the History of the World!

It was bound to happen eventually. This data theft will enable almost limitless [xkcd.com/792]-style password reuse attacks in the coming weeks. There's only one group that comes out of this looking smart: Everyone who pirated Photoshop.

With the help of LastPass’ Has Adobe Leaked My Password, let me illustrate why:

The following hints have been used by other people that share your password. This information could be used to determine your password as well.

  • Life, Universe, Everything
  • life?
  • DA
  • h2g2
  • hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy
  • yes
  • meaningoflife
  • theusual
  • everything
  • hitchhiker
  • dolphins
  • gta
  • a4
  • answer
  • meaning?
  • life
  • the answer
  • the question of life
  • HGTTG
  • meaning of life
  • the usual
  • life..
  • life the universe and everything
  • a2lae
  • the ultimate
  • Hitchhiker
  • What’s the answer?
  • hitchhikers?
  • Life the Uni and Every
  • life meaning and flower
  • common
  • douglas adams
  • a?
  • maiden
  • lotr no #
  • Adams question
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide
  • answer?
  • question
  • Life Meaning
  • adams
  • life universe everything
  • HHGTTG
  • the number
  • towel
  • typical
  • The Usual
  • How many roads must a man walk down?
  • Life, the universe, and everything
  • What is the meaning of life, the universe and all?

Would you care to guess what password the naive, young me used for Adobe?

Next steps

Write to be read

In 1997, Jakob Nielsen wrote How Users Read on the Web. His organization conducted a formal study of usability and found:

  • Concise text (half the words) is 58% more readable than rambling text.
  • Scannable text (bullets) is 47% more readable than wall of text.
  • Neutral language (facts) is 27% more readable than marketese.

Nielsen added specific recommendations:

  • Mark keywords
  • Use descriptive headings (not puns or references)
  • Use bullets
  • Limit one paragraph to one idea
  • Start with the conclusion
  • Halve the wordcount

Concise text

Blaise Pascal: I have only made this letter long because I have not had the time to make it short.

Maintaining high information density is hard. You need to edit and cut the dead text. It takes up your time, but it saves readers time; it is respectful.

Scannable text

I think that Jakob Nielsen and Jeff Atwood overuse bolding. Nevertheless, they remain widely read because their postings are clear and readable. I can see at a glance their topics, their reasoning, and their conclusions.

Neutral Language

Being positive and writing empty boasts is different. Don’t blather about awesomeness, or people will ignore even the facts.

Inverted pyramid style

Observe:

  • Newspaper stories start with the most important fact and work down.
  • Essays start with the thesis and then prove it.
  • Reports start with an executive summary.