The use of good, hard-to-guess passwords can make it difficult for a malicious hacker to break into your computer account. Avoiding predictable keywords and using different methods to introduce variety into your passwords makes it easy for you to remember them but virtually impossible for others to guess them.

Use keywords related to a theme. Choose a common, significant event: a honeymoon, the birth of a child, a new car, a new job. Example phrases associated with a birth might be blueeyes, hurry, onemorepush, crankyRN, coldbracelet, roomsix and icechips. Ideas associated with a new car could be deepblue, 6CDs, 5speed and TiresThatGrip.

The idea here is that you use a variety of words associated with an event that other people would not readily guess. Remember that you may also need to mix in uppercase letters and numbers when you create a new password. For instance, "hurry" could become hUrry66 or Hur5ry. Substitute numbers for letters based upon their appearance. With a little imagination, you can visualize numbers that bear resemblance to letters. So: 1=L, 2=Z, 3=E, 4=A, 5=S, 6=b, 7=Z, 8=B, 9=g, 0=O. When you create a password, substitute a number where a letter would appear, according to the chart above. Some examples:

* scuba becomes 5cu8a * water becomes w4t3r * icecream becomes 1c3cr34m

Substitute numbers for letters based upon their location on the keyboard. The uppermost row of letters on the keyboard, QWERTYUIOP, has a row of numbers right above it: 1234567890. So: 1=Q, 2=W, 3=E, 4=R, 5=T, 6=Y, 7=U, 8=I, 9=O, 0=P. Some examples:

* scuba becomes sc7ba * purple becomes 07r0l3 * rocket becomes 49ck35

Consistently capitalize the nth letter(s) of your password. Some systems require that at least one character be uppercase. Many people capitalize the first character, but this is too predictable. Instead, always capitalize the second, third or fourth letter, or perhaps always the last or next-to-last. Some examples: huRry, roCky, puRple, roCket.

For further interest, you can capitalize more than one letter, for instance the first and third, or the second and fourth.

Avoid predictable week-to-week or month-to-month changes. One example of a predictable pattern to avoid: eyesJan01, eyesFeb02, eyesMar03, etc. If someone was lucky enough to discover your password long ago, you don't want him to be able to predict what it will be in the future. Store passwords in Counterpane Labs' Password Safe tool. All passwords are encrypted with the robust Blowfish algorithm. A nifty feature of Password Safe is that when you double-click on a previously stored password entry, it silently copies it to the clipboard so you can paste in the password even if others are watching you type.