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Way2many Pa$$word$

Lock in Alexan­dria Bay, NY State, U.S.A

I work in a cubi­cle and it’s fairly com­mon to over­hear phone con­ver­sa­tions. When I first started work­ing there, I would always hear my co-workers beg­ging IT Ser­vices for help: “Can you reset my pass­word?” “Seri­ously peo­ple”, I thought, “how hard is it to remem­ber vari­a­tions on your birth date?”

Well, it turned out that it is harder than it seems because at work, like at home, pass­words rule our lives.

At work, I need an ID and a pass­word to log into my com­puter, another one to check my voice­mail, a third one to log into the employee por­tal, and a bunch of sep­a­rate pass­words to book a meet­ing room, to unlock my phone and to check the voice­mail on my cell. Gone are the days when you could cre­ate one mas­ter pass­word and use it every­where: all of our pass­words must be dif­fer­ent. They also have to be at least 10-character long, have upper­case and low­er­case, num­bers and spe­cial char­ac­ters such as “+” or “%”. Damn. I guess some vari­a­tion on the name of my first crush is not going to work.

And not only you have to come up with these super strong pass­words, but pass­words expire every three months. And the new pass­word must be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from the old one, oth­er­wise the sys­tem doesn’t accept it.

This is why we spend an insane amount of time either try­ing to get a pass­word reset either bang­ing on the key­board with frustration.

I could mem­o­rize my IDs and pass­words at work if I didn’t have an impres­sive num­bers of pass­words at home too. I have a PIN code for my debit card, another for my credit card, and two dif­fer­ent pass­words for online bank­ing. Now, when I pay bills online, I also have to input my “per­sonal ver­i­fi­ca­tion code”, which is just another fancy name for a pass­word. Last time I called my cell’s cus­tomer ser­vice line, I was asked to enter my “per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber”. “Which one is that”, I asked the cus­tomer rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “Is it my four-digit PIN?” “Of course not! This is the num­ber you set up the first time you call cus­tomer ser­vice”. “But I’ve never called cus­tomer ser­vice before”, I pleaded”. “Then I will leave a mes­sage on your voice­mail with your new per­sonal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber. Wait, you DO have your per­sonal code for your voice­mail, right?”

I’m suf­fer­ing from pass­word over­load. I know pass­words are sup­posed to help me—after all, they pro­tect my pri­vacy and per­sonal infor­ma­tion. And there are solu­tions. At home, I have pass­words for all the web­sites I reg­u­larly visit, as well as for my blog and my email—but thanks to a smart Fire­fox plu­gin, I save them on my per­sonal lap­top that no one else uses. I guess it’s not great security-wise but it beats writ­ing down all of my pass­words, some­thing a lot of peo­ple do.

Indeed, this pass­words over­load is extremely con­fus­ing to the aver­age user. Pass­words expire on dif­fer­ent sched­ules, and var­i­ous com­puter sys­tems have dif­fer­ent require­ments for the ren­der­ing and length of the pass­words. Pass­words are some­times ran­domly assigned—good luck mem­o­riz­ing some­thing like “765A&?%$b”!

And in addi­tion to pass­words, you some­times have to deci­pher captcha and answer a pre­vi­ously set up secu­rity ques­tion. When I was abroad, Yahoo! insisted on mak­ing me type the secu­rity code dis­played each time I logged into my emails. My bank required me to set up three secu­rity ques­tions with unique answers and ran­domly prompt them to me when I check my account online. This is annoy­ing. I feel like yelling “don’t you rec­og­nize me? This is me, hello!”

This irony of all these secu­rity mea­sures is that the aver­age human is not pro­grammed to remem­ber a gazil­lion of obscure pass­words and IDs, and that sooner or later, we all tend to write them down. Besides, ide­ally, the best pass­words (a ran­dom mix of upper — low­er­case, num­bers and spe­cial char­ac­ters) are hard to remem­ber. If given the choice, most peo­ple choose to use some bits of per­sonal information—birth date, address, nickname—that are, in the­ory, easy to find out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for tech­nol­ogy and secu­rity. I’m just scared one day I’ll be locked out of my life, that’s all.

13 comments

  1. I have the same prob­lem and with time it’s get­ting worse. There are more and more pass­words to reme­ber and they become more and more complicated.

  2. @Yogi — I feel the same! And I don’t work for national secu­rity either. We do deal with sen­si­tive info at times but I’m not sure it jus­ti­fies all the passwords.

    @Gabriel — I should be more care­ful too. A while ago, I started using stronger pass­words. I’m sorry it hap­pened to you!

    @Jeruen — I think most pass­words can be cracked unfor­tu­nately. The key is to not make it too easy.

    @London Caller — Lucky me, I only need one pass­word for online bank­ing. I don’t think I could deal with 3!

    @Em — You have no idea! :lol: There is always a spike of Help desk calls around that time.

    @khengsiong — I read some­thing sim­i­lar a while ago. I was going to try it but that would require me to change my exist­ing pass­words… not sure I want to do that.

    @Nui — I know, hol­i­days seem to erase my pass­word memory!

    @Sidney — Well, I’d def­i­nitely lose weight :lol:

    @Zunnur — Secu­rity ques­tions can be tricky too because some are case sen­si­tive, some require entire sen­tences etc.

    @London Caller — Ah, wrong one then! It really looks like the French one.

    @ApollineR — Glad to see I’m not the only one!

  3. I hear you on the pass­words. I for­get many of them and have the same issue and no I don’t like writ­ing them down either! And then when you can’t remem­ber them, you are up a creek… They need to invent a bet­ter secure sys­tem! Now how?!!?!?!?!?!

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