Cybersecurity Tips: Passphrase vs Password

Switching from passwords to passphrases is an easy way to substantially improve account security. Learn about the major differences below.

Blog Post

7 minute read

May 02, 2024

While passwords and passphrases have identical functions, there’s a major difference between the two. First of all, where passwords are typically shorter and can be hard to remember if they’re randomized, passphrases are much longer, and are generally easier to remember.  

Passwords, of course, have been used for decades as a way to protect sensitive data and personal accounts, but they’re no longer quite as effective as they used to be. Hackers and threat actors use increasingly sophisticated techniques, making it easier for them to crack credentials and gain access to private information.

Because passphrases are longer and less predictable, they provide a more secure way to protect your accounts and sensitive personal data.  

Below, we explore what makes passphrases stronger than passwords, how the concept of a passphrase came about, and why cyber hygiene, password policies, and employee awareness are critical for organizations. 

If you want to learn more about the world of cybersecurity and what’s involved in diagnosing and preventing breaches – check out Impact’s webinar, Dissecting Cybersecurity Breaches: How They Happen and How to Stop Them. 

What Is a Passphrase?  

A passphrase is a password composed of a sentence or combination of words. For instance, you could use one of your favorite song lyrics or a historic quote like, “Th3P3nIsMightierTh@nTh3Sword.” Passphrases are longer than the average password, typically between 16-32 characters, making them harder to crack and drastically improving the overall security of a user’s account. 

“Password length, character for character, is more important than password complexity.”  

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 

While passphrases should be something that the user can remember, you still want to avoid extremely common phrases that are easy to guess. Additionally, it’s crucial to use unique passphrases for all of your accounts and to include special characters. 

Another example of a strong passphrase with might be something like “W@x0nW@x0ffMrMiy@gi” This passphrase works because:  

  • It has a personal reference 
  • It is difficult to guess 
  • It uses symbols and numbers
  • It is longer than 16 characters 

Why Is It Important to Use Passphrases? 

In short, passphrases are more secure and much harder to guess than passwords  

We are currently in an age where simple passwords no longer retain the security they once did, which is why passphrases have become so essential. Passwords can lead to account hijacking from a number of cyberattacks.  

The complexity and personalization involved in creating a passphrase makes them much harder for threat actors to crack, in turn, significantly enhancing credential security.  

Using randomized characters, like replacing o’s with 0’s, a’s with @’s, or e’s with 3’s further secures your credentials and makes it even more difficult for threat actors to unveil.  

Using the same password over and over across your accounts is another big cybersecurity no-no. This is because once a password has been hacked, this information can be used to penetrate other accounts with the same or similar passwords. Instead of reusing your passphrase, or variations of it, consider adopting a password manager or vault.  

A password vault is great because you can generate one complex passphrase that you know you can remember, and then use randomly generated passwords for all of your subsequent accounts. This way, if any single password of yours is compromised, threat actors won’t be able to reuse those credentials to access your other accounts. 

Troubleshooting Password Issues

Sometimes users may encounter logging in issues such as Microsoft Outlook repeatedly asking for your password input. To solve this, watch the tech tips video running through a few options to fix this issue below. 

Passphrases are more memorable and far more secure than a password, which typically seeks security through a mix of numbers, special characters, and upper and lowercase letters.  

As an example, passwords like “GenIusc0de123!” are, in fact, easier to crack while at the same time more difficult to remember for the user. To create your own, consider using a site such as to help you generate a completely random passphrase.  

Additionally, passphrases are more secure than passwords because they are more resilient to cyberattacks such as:  

  1. Dictionary attacks 
  2. Simple brute force attacks 
  3. Credential stuffing 

1. Dictionary Attacks

Dictionary attacks are a type of brute force attack—hacks in which malicious actors use trial and error to crack passwords.   

When hackers deploy dictionary attacks, they make use of a database of words and symbols to guess passwords. Since passphrases are made up of multiple words and are more personalized, they are more difficult to crack through this method.  

In fact, the password reuse problem is fairly prolific.

A Google poll found that 1 in 8 US adults used the same password for every single one of their online accounts. An additional 52% reused the same password for some of their accounts, while 35% used unique passwords for every account.  

If you or your employees are using common passwords, or reusing passwords across several accounts, changing them as soon as possible to a more cyber-secure passphrase will create a strong layer of protection across all of your accounts.

In fact, passphrases are so much better at securing accounts that both the FBI and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) officially suggest using passphrases over passwords as length has become much a much more influential factor in password security than just complexity. 

2. Simple Brute Force Attacks

In a brute force attack, malicious actors don’t use a database, but simply try to guess a user’s password by running an algorithm that tries an incredible volume of passwords that are commonly used such as, birthdays, company names, and other obvious guesses.  

Cybercriminals can also perform this type of attack with the help of some basic reconnaissance work, such as looking at someone’s social media or LinkedIn to find out their favorite places, animals, sports teams, or any other strong interest they post about online. 

3. Credential Stuffing

If you use the same password or passphrase to safeguard multiple accounts, you are susceptible to a cyberattack known as credential stuffing.  

In this attack, bad actors use login names and passwords they acquired from a successful breach and try them on other websites.  

“61 percent of businesses experienced a cyber breach in 2023, with 25 percent suffering three or more. When asked to name the cause or causes of their most recent breach, 35 percent said it was the result of stolen credentials (passwords, tokens, etc.)”

– Christine Horton, Think Digital Partners -

For example, if your password was exposed in a social media breach and you use the same one to protect your other accounts, a cybercriminal could use it to log in to sites such as your email server, bank account, ecommerce sites, etc.

Below see how weak passwords or repeatedly-used passwords cause cybersecurity issues for organizations: 

Password stats

Passphrase vs Password  

For methods such as brute force attacks or the use of stolen credentials, the length of the password is a greater indication of its strength than its variety. In other words, your password with an upper-case first letter and exclamation mark at the end is not nearly as secure as you may think.  

Over at Hive Systems, they’ve created a useful chart which demonstrates how powerful various types of passwords are, including long passwords with no special characters and short passwords with many special characters.   

What Hive Systems found was exactly in line with what the recommendations for adopting passphrases would suggest.  

For example, if you take a look at the graph, you will notice that a short password (seven words) that includes uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, can be broken in about six minutes.  

Now compare this to a passphrase using only lowercase letters but that is 14 characters instead of seven—this would take approximately 51 years for a hacker to crack.  

Six minutes for a password vs. 51 years for a passphrase!  

Passphrases: Supported by Industry Standards 

Passphrases are supported by industry standards such as the NIST and the FBI, who both recommend the use of passphrases instead of passwords.   

The guidelines state that “memorized secrets should be 64 characters or longer” and that “simple or common phrases, including idioms, are not recommended.” By following industry standards, organizations can ensure that their cybersecurity practices are up-to-date and effective.  

Customer privacy laws such as HIPAA, CCPA, and CMMC also require organizations to protect their customers’ sensitive data such as personal information, patient data, or patent information from being exposed due to a data breach. Using a complex passphrase is an easy yet effective way to do so.  

The Role of Phishing in Password and Passphrase Security

Even if you have some of the strongest passphrases in the world, it will all be for naught if you get duped by a social engineering scam like phishing, vishing, or smishing. These cyberattacks often rely on fraudulent emails or phony links that trick users into revealing account credentials.  

If a user does fall victim to a phishing scam, they essentially hand over the keys to the castle, and the quality of your passphrases simply won’t matter.  

This is why cybersecurity awareness and training for employees is so crucial in today’s digital era. By empowering your employees with the information they need to identify, avoid, and report phishing scams, you can greatly reduce the likelihood that your business gets hit by a successful phishing campaign.  

Phishing attacks quote

Wrapping Up on Passwords vs. Passphrases

You can greatly improve account security with simple measures like switching from passwords to passphrases. As you do make this transition, keep the following in mind when you’re crafting your passphrase:

  • Human error is a key factor in the increasing volume of cyberattacks we’ve seen in recent years.
  • Cyberattacks rely on human error and weak credentials in order to exploit users.  
  • Password length, rather than character variety, is the primary component of a password’s strength, meaning passphrases are far more secure than passwords—even if they feature no special characters at all.
  • Passphrases prevent data breaches due to brute force attacks and help organizations protect their customers’ private data. 

Passwords are only one of the elements of a comprehensive and layered cybersecurity strategy. Learn more about the processes involved in identifying and preventing security breaches in Impact’s webinar, Dissecting Cybersecurity Breaches: How They Happen and How to Stop Them. 


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