Column: ¿PassWords1 — We have gone too far!

05/17/2014 6:00 AM |

password

One of the most dreaded moments in the modern-day workforce is when the IT guru walks up to your desk and informs you it’s time to change passwords. Just as you got used to the old ones…

Such was the case recently at Times/Review Newsgroup. Our instructions were straightforward: Pick a new password, at least eight characters long. Oh, and make sure there’s at least one capital letter. And one number. And one other character.

Just to be safe, I added hieroglyphics, a few symbols from the Periodic Table of Elements and some letters from the Latin Alphabet.

Good luck hacking into this computer.

With the proliferation of electronic devices in our lives, it seems as if everything requires some sort of login and password. How in the world are we supposed to remember them all?

As a random exercise, I tried tallying all the passwords I have to use in my everyday life between work and home. I came up with about 40 in my personal life and another 20 or so for work.

Multiple Twitter, Instagram and Facebook logins add up quickly.

Coming up with a safe password used to be simple. The advice was always to avoid a common word, a birthday, a string of one number repeated. Easy stuff to avoid.

Now, though, with random capital letters, numbers and ampersands galore, my brain suddenly feels a bit overwhelmed.

As I guess most people do, I’ve used a variation of two passwords for most of my personal logins dating back to high school. Over time, our passwords become part of our identity, a personal secret we keep bottled up inside. A four-digit password I’ve often used is based on the first three digits that I used for the cash register at my first job at RadioShack. I simply added a zero to the end and have kept it ever since. I currently use it as my iPhone and iPad screen lock.

Another password I’ve used since I was a teenager was inspired by a basketball poster hanging next to my computer years ago. At the time, I imagined some movie-like scenario where someone trying to hack into my computer had an epiphany while gazing up at the poster. (Why someone would be sitting at my desk trying to guess my computer password, I have no idea. Nevertheless…)

Inevitably, someone will ask for one of your passwords. No matter how harmless, it can still leave you with an uncomfortable feeling. (Oh, you really want my Netflix login?) This was never portrayed better than in the famous “Seinfeld” episode where George is forced to reveal his password to save a man stuck in the door to an ATM as a fire raged inside. George hesitates, weighing the cons of saving a man’s life versus revealing his password, before finally caving.

Bosco!

I imagine most people take the risky route of writing their passwords down somewhere. While it’s a handy way to keep track of them, it poses a serious danger if the list somehow gets in the wrong hands.

I mean, look what happened to Sandra Bullock in “The Net.” And that was the mid-90s!

Some passwords we simply know we won’t remember. We’re forced to write them down. This happened recently when I had to create a login to access my student loans. I created a file with the user name and password. But a month or so later, when I went to access it again, I forgot I ever wrote down the password. So I had to jump through hoops to create it again.

Most websites offer a way to reset your password simply enough. But even now, those only-you-can-answer questions used to prove a person’s identity seem to be getting trickier and trickier.

I tried logging into my bank account recently and was tasked with picking three new security questions to answer. Many are tied to a spouse or child, which currently do not apply to me.

Some questions I couldn’t even answer.

“What was your boss’ first name at your first job?” Umm, I remember what he looks like, but what was his name?

“What is the price of your first car?” Not a lot.

“In what city was your grandfather born?” Which grandfather?

“Who is your favorite person from history?” All of history?!

I imagine the space in the brain that remembers passwords is the same spot we used to use to remember phone numbers. As a kid, I could remember dozens of my friends’ phone numbers. (Wait, did I have dozens of friends? Maybe it was just a handful.)

For all the aggravation passwords can cause, there are euphoric moments as well.

Imagine: five chances to correctly input your password. You’re down to your last strike. You type in your final guess, pausing before tentatively hitting the enter button.

And bam! It works!

Congratulations, now you can pay your car loan.

Joe_Werkmeister_2012.jpgJoe Werkmeister is the web editor for the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He was the 2013 recipient for best column from the New York Press Association. He can be reached at 354-8049 or joew@timesreview.com.

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