Way2many Pa$$word$

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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.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

13 Comments

  1. I feel your pain. I don’t quite get why we have to do it. It takes a secure card to get into the parking area, get into the building, and on to my floor. Then I have a password to get into my laptop, and then still further passwords for the various systems I have to log onto, our passwords have to be changed monthly.

    And no I am not designing nuclear weapons, I am buying and selling natural gas. Much of the information I deal with will be available publicly within 30 days on various state corporation commission web sites.

    I don’t get it.

  2. The problems I have had recently (somebody stole my personal information from a database and use it to hack into my e-mail and delete not only my main blog, but also my ancillary ones and even my videos on Youtube) made me realize once again that I need to keep good track of my user ids and passwords and where I leave them.

    That’s why I downloaded a tiny app called ‘Password keeper’ (it’s a freeware) and I’ve been storing information like crazy since! 🙂

  3. I totally agree to this rant! I have been wrestling with that problem for the longest time, that I think it resulted in me dividing my various facets of my life into different domains, and assigning passwords accordingly. Although yes, I should be careful not to reveal how I divide my facets or else if people find out about it and crack my passwords, then several domains would be screwed up.

  4. Do you have an online banking account?
    I think they have the toughest passwords.
    My bank requires me to have three sets of passwords.
    And they don’t just ask you to key in the complete passwords.
    Instead something like what are your 1st, 5th, 6th & 9th letters of your 1st set.
    Then, 2nd, 4th, 10th, etc for your second set.
    And so on for the 3rd set.

    Always takes me a long time to work it out! Ha ha…

  5. Whoa!
    Looks like things are a lot easier here. I’m ok at remembering a few passwords I use regularly, but once _%*-/ are involved, I’m lost! They break that little song I have when I recite numbers or letters.

    I can’t believe you must change them every three months; it must be a nightmare!

  6. A ‘memory expert’ once suggested to me that we should create passwords which consist of 2 parts – 1st part is common to all platforms, and the 2nd part is platform-dependent.

    For example, you can have these passwords:
    zhu123home
    zhu123work
    zhu123voice
    zhu123portal

    Somehow I haven’t followed his advice, as part 2 can be tough to remember.

  7. I never seen anybody put it so well in this topic until now. Hilarious but so true.

    I know the feeling and glad that I don’t need to work in such organization that I have to have so many passwords and change that often anymore. I remember there were few times that I didn’t remember my passwords after a holiday; dear, it was a nightmare!

  8. Hi Zhu,

    Very well written, I face the same problem too. We always try to create a strong password but eventually suffer. The thing I hate most is when you’re prompted to change your passwords every few months, and too bad that we also forget the answer for the security questions. Hope we won’t need passwords in the future to enter the house or start the vehicles 🙂

  9. >Oh, so you went to France? I love the Mont St Michel, even if it’s quite touristy. Did you have some galettes? It,s a specialty there.

    Sorry, I’ve nearly forgotten this.
    No, that St Michael’s Mount is actually located in Cornwall, England.
    It looks similar to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France.
    That’s because its design was based on Mont Saint-Michel.

  10. 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.

  11. @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! 😆 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 😆

    @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!

  12. 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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