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With common PC's able to calculate trillions of calculations per second, passwords have become less secure.  

Here is a Tom's article on the speed of modern computer chips, and Wiki's article on the cost of the computations.  Modern computers can simply calculate millions of password possibilities in a few seconds.

I became interested the ability to crack passwords when looking at a potential security breach.  The network wasn't breached, but I did some research for a few hours..  I built a password cracker from free software on the Internet.

I won't tell you how to use the tools, or what tools work well.  Don't ask.  However, after learning how to use these free tools, I cracked almost every password on our own network in under 3 minutes.  I had an admin password in less than 60 seconds.

NEVER use a common word.  All of the common words are in dictionary lists.  No matter how "random" the word is, it's still a word and is very likely on the dictionary lists that hackers use.  It'll be cracked in minutes if the hacker has determined that they want your password.

Common long words are barely better than common short words...the programs have the list and it can try all of 'em in about 5 minutes.  In other words,  your common password can be cracked faster that someone can call you and ask you for it.

Always, always use strong passwords. Use a pass phrase whenever possible.  Here are some free tools from Microsoft.

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