Do prescribed secure passwords really result in better security?

buzzword password error

I was excited to hear that Buzzword is in public beta so I tried to sign up this morning only to be greeted with an error message: "A password must be at least 6 characters, with at least one alphabetic and one non-alphabetic character."

It's not as bad a policy as some applications have (my favorite is "Your password must be between 6 and 8 characters long and must contain at least one number and at least one non-number, non-alphabetical character). Or, even worse still, I've actually seen an application that generated a password for me and then didn't give me the option of changing it (thankfully, I've only run into that train-wreck once).

These policies are bad because, whether we like it or not, most people use the same password (or several different ones) for different services. Yes, it's not ideal for security but it is the reality we are faced with. Given this, you can either let people use their existing passwords or dictate that they create a new one for your application. Whenever an application forces me to do this, I guarantee that I will forget this password. And what do most people do when they know they'll forget a password? That's right: they write it down somewhere. And how are most successful hack attacks carried out? You guessed it: through social engineering and by rummaging through offices and/or garbage bags for little pieces of paper with passwords on them.

That little yellow post-it that you just wrote your new eight character super strong Buzzword password on and stuck to your monitor at work is more of a security risk than the six character password you usually use for stuff that you have locked away safely in your head.

Update: I also just noticed that the Buzzword login page is being served over HTTP. Of course, they may be making an HTTPS call in the application but, if they're not, it means that your lovely strong password is open to everyone else on the network to see as it travels in clear text over the Internet.