Jon Miller – Project 1

by Jon Miller @ 5:26 am 27 January 2010

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I have attached a zip file here: (link) containing an html file that opens the flash object without resizing it. Download both, then open the html file. Thanks everyone for the positive feedback!

I wanted to explore something that might be completely new to people, including myself. Password lists are widely available online, however, they are predominantly used to gain access to accounts, and occasionally viewed as a curiosity. I decided to look at the content of the most commonly used passwords to see what I would find.

After exploring the various databases for awhile, I decided to sort by category a database of the most popular 500 passwords myself and with the help of a friend. Although this would introduce some personal bias into the data, I felt it would be more useful this way to us, to allow us to see what people find important, and to compare the relative popularities of related things. For example, while it might not make much sense to compare “132456” with “jordan”, it could be more interesting to compare “mustang” directly to “yamaha”.

I also included a sample of a much larger database, so that people can observe random passwords scrolling by. Having looked by now at several hundred passwords, I have come to appreciate the value of simply reading them, recognizing things such as childhood artefacts and obscure motivational phrases.

People most often put (presumably) their first names. Names which coincide with famous people (for example: Michael Jordan) are more popular. Other names, such as Thomas, are simply very popular first names. Other very popular choices are profanity and sexually related words, which perhaps shows more about what people would prefer to think about when they think no one is looking. Other major categories include references to pop culture, sports related passwords, and incredibly easy to guess passwords, such as “password”. This might be a reflection of the apathy or ignorance to the ease of which one’s account can be cracked. However, it might also be a reflection of the fact that these passwords come from sites which were hacked – most likely social networking or other noncritical websites. Thus, a password list from, say, a bank or a company would be less likely to contain such obvious passwords.

Looking at individual passwords, we can see that many of them educate us about many popular cultures: for example, “ou812” is an album by Val Halen, and “srinivas” is a famous Indian mandolin player. Of particular curiosity is “abgrtyu”, which is not a convenient sequence of keys like “asdf” or “qwerty”, has no apparent cultural origin, and yet is still in the top 500 list. One theory is that the word was repeatedly autogenerated by spam bots who created accounts. Another theory is that it is a fake password, added to the list to prevent people from plagiarizing this particular password list, similar to the way real dictionaries will add an imaginary word so that thieves can be easily caught.

We can delve further into the categories and look at what people seem to value in their vehicles and the brand names – there are american made sports cars at the top, with higher and lower vehicles appearing further down the list. Curiously, “Scooter” appears 5th – perhaps because of its recognition as a band as well?
Looking at the randomized database of several million passwords, there are many more references to things, many of which I do not recognize, some of which I do. They range far and wide, from minor characters in videogames to storybook villians. Many passwords here are similar to the top 500 passwords (which should come as no surprise).

This journey has been a highly speculative one, involving many google searches leading to cultural references and lots of browsing over seemingly random assortments of words and phrases. It is refreshing to see that people choose overall more positive things than negative (for example, “fuckme is soundly ahead of “fuckyou”, though both are popular passwords), and it was interesting to reflect on my own choice of passwords.

I chose to program this in Flash, not because I felt it was most suitable for the task (given its lack of file I/O, it could be argued that it is the least suitable), but because I want to become a better Flash programmer.

Further steps would be to make the interface interactive somehow, so that the people on the internet could sort words their own way, perhaps slightly similar to refrigerator magnets. This way people could see what everyone thinks, rather than deal with my personal opinions on how they should be sorted. Perhaps also user submitted passwords could be added to the list.


  1. Resizing the .swf may break the program. Working on a fix.
    Edit: Temporary fix: At the top of the page, I have posted a link to a zip file containing an html file and the .swf. Download both, then open the html file to view the flash correctly. Thanks.

    Comment by Jon Miller — 27 January 2010 @ 11:39 am
  2. Hi Jon – here are the PiratePad notes from the crit.

    This is cool. Manually editing the list can be a bit ambiguous.

    Woah, terminal! Yay!   I’m having a little toruble understanding how to navigate your project, but once your started going through it, I got it.  I think a simple “help” or “usage” (hehe) option that you can click on to explain the navigation in detail would be enough to help people understand how to get around the project.  Very cool.  Really interesting and funny findings too! 🙂 -Amanda

    I love the hacker-style interface.

    Could use a label on the random passwords to clarify, also would love to see bar charts or something like that to show how many times each password has been used

    Wow, this is interesting. Passwords reveal something about the people who use them. It’s cool to see what people are thinking.

    you remind me an old school game Hacker! Your design fit the idea, nice job.

    for the category view, how many passwords were you pulling from?
    once you’ve clicked on the catefories, are they sorted in anyway? popularity? or just your own personal interest?

    I can’t tell when a password is a category title and when it’s just a password. I like the general design concept though.

    Cool styling, awesome dataset, fun comparisons.How much labelling of the passwords did you have to do? (e.g. Ford = a brand, Mike = a name, celebs. etc>)

    Cute, fun and useful toy. (I think it’s the “Terminal” look that makes me call it cute.) I wish it was more clear straight off the bat that the list for a given category was ordered (maybe put the counts next to them on those screens?) But this is totally the sort of thing I could see people playing with (and maybe even helping to curate/comment.) -SB

    Comment by placebo — 28 January 2010 @ 10:15 am

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