The importance of a strong password

While very few of us could claim to be enjoying a stellar start to the year amid the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of global civil unrest, spare a thought for Stefan Thomas. The German-born programmer who lives in San Francisco is locked out of $277.5m (£203m) worth of bitcoin after forgetting the password to a hard drive.

The drive, which contains the keys to a digital wallet holding 7,002 digital coins of the cryptocurrency, allows 10 attempts at guessing the password before it seizes up and encrypts its contents, losing the hundreds of millions forever. 

Mr Thomas was given the bitcoin in exchange for creating an animated video called ‘What is Bitcoin?’ 10 years ago, but lost the digital keys to the wallet later that year. While each bitcoin was worth $2-$6 at the time, they’re now worth $39,000 each at the time of writing as a result of the currency’s volatile fluctuations. 

Bitcoin is famously volatile, but has made early investors millions of dollars (Photo: Getty)

He has already tried eight of his most commonly-used passwords, leaving him with just two attempts to retrieve the money. “I would just lie in bed and think about it,” he told the New York Times. “Then I would go to the computer with some new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I would be desperate again.” He has since put the IronKey hard drive in a secure facility in part to stop himself overthinking it, adding: “I got to a point where I said to myself, ‘Let it be in the past, just for your own mental health’”. 

Mr Thomas is far from alone. Around 20 per cent of the existing 18.5m bitcoin— currently worth around $146bn — appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets, according to the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, money which may never be recovered. James Howells, an IT worker from Newport who accidentally threw away a hard drive containing even more bitcoin than Mr Thomas (some 7,500 coins, worth $300m) in 2013, is currently offering Newport City Council 25 per cent of the money to let him search its landfill site, which the council says it not possible under…