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Most of the people are familiar with restricting access to computer systems via a password, which is a unique string of characters that a user types in as an identification code.

A passphrase is a longer version of a password and in theory, a more secure one. Typically composed of multiple words, a passphrase is more secure against standard dictionary attacks, wherein the attacker tries all the words in the dictionary in an attempt to determine our password. The best passphrases are relatively long and complex and contain a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numeric and punctuation characters.

PGP uses a passphrase to encrypt our private key on our machine. Our private key is encrypted on our disk using a hash of our passphrase as the secret key. We use the passphrase to decrypt and use our private key. A passphrase should be hard for us to forget and difficult for others to guess. It should be something already firmly embedded in our long-term memory, rather than something we make up from scratch. Why? Because if we forget our passphrase, we are out of luck. Our private key is totally and absolutely useless without our passphrase and nothing can be done about it. PGP is cryptography that will keep major governments out of our files. It will certainly keep us out of our files, too. Keep that in mind when we decide to change our passphrase to the punchline of that joke we can never quite remember.


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