A story in The Wall Street Journal last week has left me talking to myself. At least I think I am talking to myself, email@example.com, right?
That’s who I am some of the time. But I am also firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org — but all talk there is mute because that address doesn’t work, who knows why.
The Journal article, “Fix That Password — Now!” doesn’t address why something isn’t working, though a wrong password is often to blame, which could be the case with my Globe e-mail, because really, who can remember a combination of letters and numbers chosen seven years ago?
Back in the day when I was a kid and my best friend Rose and I christened a bunch of flat rocks near the edge of the school playground our “clubhouse,” remembering the password we had to say out loud before we could sit there was easy. It was Leo.
Now we choose the names of many: family, friends, pets, favorite authors, favorite foods. Now we have upper and lower case letters. Now we have numbers, too. And there’s not just one password anymore. Now we have dozens.
And we have trouble remembering one.
Some combination of lasagna and numbers got me into the iTunes store a while ago because when I created that account I was sitting on the couch eating lasagna. But then I didn’t log in for months and I remembered lasagna but forgot the numbers that followed. So I had to create another password. Now, some 10 passwords later, I have yet another food/friend/family/number combination I cannot remember, because you’re not supposed to write down your passwords anywhere because someone might come along and hack into the secret place where your passwords are stored, then hack into your computer, then hack into all your accounts.
The Wall Street Journal insists that we don’t need all these passwords we can’t remember. It claims we can get by with just five.
Ellen E. Schultz writes that we need one for “sensitive accounts such as e-mail, Facebook, and TurboTax.” And another “for online retailers or airline awards programs.” And a third “for utilities, such as your cellphone and cable providers.” And “an easier password for sites like Netfix and Pinterest.” And an even easier one for a site “you visit once.”
But here’s the thing. How do you know you’ll be visiting a site just once? What if you go back? Do you upgrade your password then and make it complex?
Plus consider the complexity of complex. Three of these passwords, she says, should be made up of the first letters of beginning of things like DyKtWtSj (“Do You Know the Way to San Jose”) or AqOtWf (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), with every other letter capitalized, followed by a “special character” (such as a dollar sign) followed by your ZIP code.
This in addition to five different user-IDs (which should never be your own name) plus answers to security questions like “What is your favorite color?” and “What is your favorite book?” which should never be the true answers.
Life was a lot easier when “Password’’ was just an afternoon game show.
The worst thing about passwords, though, isn’t creating them. It’s forgetting them.
“Do you know your password?” someone will ask and when you don’t, you’re back in fourth grade, up at the blackboard, chalk in hand, stymied by long division again.
“It’s like cracking the DaVinci code,” my daughter, Lauren, says about getting into her Banana Republic account.
Her words make me smile because they make me think that “enter password” is at least age neutral, striking fear into the hearts of both young and old.