Published: 10 May 2018
The Passmaker project consists of a passphrase generator library and a command line utility named
passmakercmd. It enables the generation of memorable passphrases with 32 or 64 bits of entropy.
Bitcoin's BIP38 and BIP39 are two well-known applications where good passphrases with sufficient entropy are vital for security. Unfortunately, humans are notoriously bad at coming up with secure passphrases. Moreover, many passphrase generators produce sequences of random words which are hard to memorise. The goal of Passmaker is to produce passphrases with a known entropy (either 32 or 64 bits), but whose words are arranged in a grammatically sensible order, and are thus easier to memorise.
Note that for most applications, 32 (and even 64) bits of entropy do not provide enough security on their own. Therefore, in the BIP39 application, a passphrase generated by Passmaker is intended to be used as the optional passphrase that further protects the traditional 12 or 24 word (128 or 256 bits, respectively) mnemonic phrase, and not as a substitute.
All passphrases have a fixed grammatical structure:
adjective + noun + [from] + location.
adjective + noun + verb + adjective + noun + [from] + location.
from preposition is always output by Passmaker, but is optional in the commands where a passphrase is used as input. You may also use the article
the before a noun phrase whenever a passphrase is given as input, and the article(s) will likewise be ignored. Note also that Passmaker capitalises the first character of output passphrases, and does the same for locations. However, case is ignored when passphrases are used as input.
The entropy contribution from each word category is as follows:
Adjective: 11 bits (from a list of 2048 words).
Noun: 11 bits (from a list of 2048 words).
Verb: 10 bits (from a list of 1024 words).
Location: 10 bits (from a list of 1024 words).
All word lists obey the following rules:
No word must be more than ten characters in length.
The edit distance between any two words within the same category must be at least two using the Levenshtein-Damerau measure. This enables the guaranteed detection of simple spelling mistakes, and allows the program to provide meaningful suggestions for the misspelled word.
Furthermore, special considerations were taken for each word category:
The list of adjectives includes present and past participles of verbs.
It must not require too much effort to ascribe agency to the nouns. Therefore, animal and plant names, professions, and physical objects are over-represented.
Verbs must be transitive, otherwise the generated passphrase makes no grammatical sense.
Locations include cities, countries, regions, celestial objects, and even historical and fictional places. Being at least somewhat recognisable was the main criterion for inclusion, but the resulting list has an obvious bias towards Western cultures. Therefore, though the list ommits some large Chinese cities which hardly anyone in the West has ever heard of, it does include small cities much more familiar to European or American ears.
The passmaker library and associated command line utility are available in OPAM. Just install packages
Using the command line utility
You can generate a fresh 64-bit passphrase with the
generate command. The entropy is fetched from
/dev/urandom, which is considered a cryptographically secure source:
$ passmakercmd generate Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid
Generating a 32-bit passphrase requires setting the
$ passmakercmd generate --size 32 Demanding reptile from Bordeaux
abbreviate command takes a full text passphrase as input and outputs the four-letter abbreviation of each word. Note that the
from preposition is dropped:
$ passmakercmd abbreviate "Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid" absu pira disl hidd lott madr
expand command takes an abbreviated passphrase as input and expands it into its full text representation:
$ passmakercmd expand "absu pira disl hidd lott madr" Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid
hex-of-text converts a full text passphrase into its hexadecimal representation:
$ passmakercmd hex-of-text "Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid" 8aa0b31738aa600b
Conversely, the command
text-of-hex converts a hexadecimal representation of a passphrase into full text:
$ passmakercmd text-of-hex 8aa0b31738aa600b Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid
Recall that the preposition
from before the location and the article
the before a noun phrase are automatically discarded when converting a text passphrase into its hexadecimal or abbreviated form. Therefore, the following invocations all produce the same output:
$ passmakercmd hex-of-text "Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery Madrid" 8aa0b31738aa600b $ passmakercmd hex-of-text "Absurd pirate dislikes hidden lottery from Madrid" 8aa0b31738aa600b $ passmakercmd hex-of-text "The absurd pirate dislikes the hidden lottery from Madrid" 8aa0b31738aa600b
Finally, all commands that expected a positional parameter will read from standard input if that parameter is not present in the command line. This enables using the utility in a pipeline:
$ echo 8aa0b31738aa600b | passmakercmd text-of-hex | passmakercmd abbreviate absu pira disl hidd lott madr
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: The generated passphrase was offensive! What's up with that?
A: Some care was taken to remove potentially offensive words from the word lists. However, given that upwards of 16 quintillion passphrases may be generated, there are bound to be some that someone, somewhere, will find offensive. Should that be you, just chill and generate a new passphrase.