I have but one simple request. Could somebody please take back some of my passwords? Every week, it seems that I have to remember more of them. I'm no Luddite. I love the Internet, but I just don't need any more passwords. My accounts are already so utterly secure that often I can't even access them myself. Never mind some hacker.
I'm still amazed at the number of passwords in my life. I have at least six for work, four more for my various e-mail accounts, four to manage my finances online, and countless others for all the web sites that for no apparent reason insist on giving me one.
I try to keep things simple by reusing the same passwords for different programs, but even this doesn't work. "Your password has expired," I am told every few months, and then must choose yet another to add to my repertoire of codes. And it's not just passwords either. Half the time, when I'm online, I have to choose a different user name because all my regular ones have already been taken. (Really, how many J. Lavins can there be out there?)
Recently, I decided to count all the passwords and pin numbers I need to use on a weekly basis. I came up with 16, which if you ask me is about 15 too many. As I write this, it occurs to me that I can't even remember one of my e-mail passwords. A long time ago, I told my e-mail program to memorize it, and now I have no clue what it is. Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get hacked some day, and I can ask the hacker to tell me.
"Excuse me, before you use my computer as a dummy terminal to break into all the world's financial systems and bring the entire worldwide economy to a screeching halt, do you happen to know what my Eudora password is?"
I realize that this is mostly my fault. If I didn't try to do so much online, I wouldnt need so many passwords. "Why on earth do you need four e-mail accounts?" I am often asked.
"Well, one is for home. One is for work. The third is for newsletters. And the fourth is a web account so that I can check the other three remotely," I answer nonchalantly.
It makes perfect sense to me, but usually by this point the other person is walking away, shaking his or her head. Perhaps, then, I don't really have the right to complain, but I know I'm not alone. I hear the same complaints from people far less addicted to their computer than I am. Small combinations of numbers and letters have come to rule our lives, and remembering them all has become our greatest challenge online.
We each have our own techniques. Contrary to the advice of most security experts, many like to use phone numbers, pet names, or birthdays. I tend to go with made-up words or pin numbers from defunct bank accounts. I even have one friend who will gleefully tell just about everyone her password, mainly because it's a 15-letter word from mythology that no one could ever hope to spell correctly.
Few of us are at all careful with our passwords. When I train computer users as part of my job, I will often notice their passwords sitting next to their computer, on a piece of paper under their keyboard, or even on a sticky note affixed to their monitor. Last year, I typed up a list of all my father's passwords and taped it to the wall of his office. He was thrilled. It's not exactly a security threat; he works in a home office in a small town. Still, it does defeat the whole point of even having a password.
In some way, the more passwords we have, the less secure we have become. But exactly how else are we supposed to remember them all? When you think about it, "Aw, @#$%, what's my password again?" might as well be the official motto of the digital age.
A shorter version of this originally appeared in the Boston Herald.
Copyright 2000 by Joe Lavin
|Copyright 2000 by Joe Lavin
Joe Lavin's Humor Column is published every Tuesday at: http://joelavin.com
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Submitted By: Joe Lavin
Dec 1, 2000 14:19