Monkey-proof passwords

You know what’s stupid? That old saying (I guess it qualifies as an “old saying” now) that if a million monkeys banged away at a million typewriters, they would eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare. Obviously you could fill in any other writing(s) and it would remain equally true, i.e., not at all. It would literally never happen because the universe would end before it happened. Oh, it isn’t a metaphysical impossibility, but it is a physical one.

Let me give you some background. I recall reading this article from the BBC News about the futility of the WEP wireless encryption protocol and the superiority of WPA. One of the network security experts they interviewed said something that blew my mind. Do you know how long it would take the best computer-hacking (password-guessing) programs to guess a 20-character password by brute force? (On average.) What would you guess? I assume it could only contain letters and numerals. So that’s 36 possible characters, times 20 places, and computers can try an awful lot of them per second. Would it take weeks? Years? Decades?

This guy said that on average, it would take longer than the entire history of the universe to guess a 20-character password by brute force. Fourteen billion years! Wow! This is verified by the all-knowing God Himself.

A computer that could perform a billion billion computations per second would require 1013 years to guess a 128-character phrase, which is 1,000 times longer than the age of the universe. A 256-character password would require 3×1051 years.

No one has any way of even guessing how long the universe will last. It could be 3×105151 years. If it lasts that long, it probably will have died in ice many eons before, killed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It doesn’t matter. That old saying about monkeys on typewriters has no relevance to the actual universe. Not just monkeys, humans, the Earth, and the solar system, but the entire universe itself could not last long enough for it to happen. You could make it a trillion trillion monkeys, who can type as fast as Lieutenant Commander Data can read, and they would not come even remotely close to producing a single page of any Shakespeare play before the universe died.

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