Outlook webmail passwords restricted to 16 chars – how does that compare with Yahoo and Gmail?

Outlook.comOutlook.com, Microsoft’s relaunch for Hotmail, has already had over one million new sign-ups from users keen to try it out.

Jokers were also quick to grab available email addresses, beating Microsoft’s CEO to the punch by grabbing [email protected] and [email protected], for instance.

Although these addresses were no doubt acquired for fun, there can be little doubt that phishers and spammers also raced to acquire email addresses that they might try to deploy in attacks and scams in the future.

But what caught my eye when reading Twitter today, was discussion about something else related to Outlook.com – the maximum password length it imposes.

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It seems that Outlook.com won’t let you have a password of longer than 16 characters. (The same was true of Hotmail).

Outlook.com maximum password length

So, how does this compare to its rivals in the webmail market?

Yahoo fairs somewhat better – allowing you to have up to 32 characters (although I think a minimum of six characters is too short).

Yahoo maximum password length

And when registering an account with Gmail, I was unable to hit a limit on password length. However, as I tried to log into an account I had created with a ridiculously long password I was told I could only enter 200 characters.

Gmail maximum password length

Shouldn’t Outlook.com be giving users the option of having longer passwords like Yahoo and Gmail do?

It’s not as though Microsoft has to store the passwords – I’m hoping (boy.. I’m so hoping..) that they don’t store your password at all, but instead generate a salted hash or checksum based upon your password.

Then, whenever you log in, they can compare the salted hash of the password that is entered to the salted hash that they store in their database. If they match, the password has been entered correctly.

Longer passwords aren’t necessarily better just because they’re longer, of course. A password such as “12345678901234567890” is probably not going to be as hard to crack as “v4L61^3Fes@zEkiR” even though it’s longer.

But generally, if you don’t choose a password that’s easy to guess or crack, longer is better.

So it’s a shame to see the new Outlook.com miss an opportunity to encourage the use of longer passwords. Anything which encourages users to choose hard-to-crack, hard-to-guess, unique passwords is good in my book.

If you want to learn more about password security make sure to listen to our podcast which busts password myths; and watch our video where we explain how to create a password that’s hard to crack but easy to remember, and the importance of not using the same password on multiple websites.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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