Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Aside from historical reasons, there really is no good excuse for not allowing lots of special characters and long passwords as an option for users.
Since secure email passwords are critical and we should include symbols and special characters to increase security, I can't understand why ISPs such as AT&T U-verse, Comcast, etc., do NOT allow any of the above in setting up passwords. Their tech people just can't explain it. This boggles my mind.
In this excerpt from Answercast #59, I discuss possible reasons for password limitations and suggestions to keep your passwords secure.
It does me too to a certain degree. I kind of understand it; I'm not going to excuse it.
I honestly believe that you're quite right. There should be no reason not to allow special characters and in fact, there should also not be a length limit.
We've been recently hearing about length limits imposed on Microsoft Hotmail accounts of only 16 characters. And while that might be sufficient, if you choose an appropriate 16-character password, I don't believe that it's enough. There is really no technical reason that a 16-character password should be required.
So, with that little bit of griping out of the way... my understanding (the reason I at least sort of understand where some of this comes from) is that many of these systems (particularly the larger, older ISPs) have been around for so long that a lot of what they're dealing with is what we call politely "legacy" systems. Put another way these are "older than dirt" systems that were actually crafted back in the time when password length was not nearly as much of an issue - and in fact, password complexity wasn't as much of an issue.
And, on top of that, there were often barriers to using certain characters. There were escape characters that could not be transmitted between whatever it was you were typing on and the system that was receiving it.
I don't mean the Escape key. I mean characters that were used to signify something special. An exclamation point, or a dollar sign, or any number of things would actually be intercepted before they reached the destination system. As a result, you could type them all you want, but they might not actually show up in your password.
There's no reason for that today. I'm not saying that's the way things work today. But it definitely is the way that many systems were architected in the past. Unfortunately, many of these systems that have come forward, even into this 21st century, are now built on some of the same code (or built with some of the same assumptions) that were requirements back in the day.
It's unfortunate. I really don't know a way around it other than complaining. Perhaps, I suppose a certain amount of public shaming of these ISPs... but the point is that you have to work with what they give you.
If what they give you isn't sufficient for your needs, then you need to take extra steps. Extra steps including perhaps not using them for some of the more secure things that you might consider using them for. Or perhaps not using them at all and switching to a different system.
What we often say is that length is more important than special characters. So, I'm actually not as concerned about the number of special characters that are disallowed as long as the password can be made significantly longer.
By significantly longer, I'd say (I don't know...) a minimum of 20 to 30 characters at least. Some way that you can actually type in a "pass phrase," because those are going to be significantly harder for hackers to crack in many different approaches.
Unfortunately, like I said earlier, we have systems like Hotmail where they've artificially limited the length of the password. I don't know what their current stand is on special characters; I believe they allow special characters. But if a password is going to be artificially restricted to some annoyingly short length...
Sixteen isn't quite annoying other than the fact it shouldn't need to be there. I know of systems that do allow only eight-character passwords! With those, you should definitely be allowed to, and you should be using random characters (special characters and so forth) to keep your password as secure as possible.
But the short answer is... aside from historical reasons (aside from the
complexity of changing existing systems, large existing systems), there really
is no good excuse for not allowing both lots and lots of special characters
and having exceptionally long passwords as an option for most users.
Next from Answercast #59 - I'm told that IE8 is using too much memory, what do I do?
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