Tuesday, March 10, 2015

**Torture By Password

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published March 12, 2015] © 2015 

I should have recognized it as the beginning of the end. When my university employer decided to make the transition from paper to computers some years back, each employee was emailed unchangeable personal passwords to do business with various departments, with the all-caps admonition: COMMIT THESE TO MEMORY! DO NOT WRITE THEM DOWN!

The passwords were all along the lines of *jwqY@7.  Well, I didn’t really want to contact the travel office anyway.
Lo these many years later, I have 12 PAGES of passwords. The irony, of course, is that I actually have a phenomenal memory for numbers. I still remember all of my childhood friends’ birthdays, addresses, and even phone numbers. But that, of course, is because they were all in my native English and I actually wanted to remember them.

Now, of course, we are all subjected to Torture by Password. The requirements are getting more onerous by the day. There usually have to be a minimum of 8 characters and include a capital letter, number, and “special character.” I can see that for financial accounts, but your local photo developing place? Please! Go ahead and steal my photos! My kids would thank you for it!
Personally, I would never willingly choose a password with a capital letter. I have hurled epithets at a lot of login sites over this, and I mean really really bad words. (I KNOW THAT’S MY PASSWORD YOU effing #$^&*#@#s! WHY DOESN’T IT WORK?????) Ultimately, I have to have them send me a link to re-set my password to a new one that I won’t remember either.

Let’s talk about those security questions for a moment. Almost all of our accounts are joint so when the question pops up about the name of the high school you graduated from, does it mean Olof’s or mine? His first car or my first car? Whenever there’s a choice (and there usually isn’t), we try to go for the unequivocal ones like, “Name of the city in which you got married.” Of course, even that assumes our second marriages, not the first ones.  Neither of us can remember our maternal grandmothers’ maiden names so we just never buying anything from that site.
I realize on-line hacking is a serious problem but when warned to be sure that the “personal phrase” or the “personal security image” I selected appears before typing my password, I can only think, “Hmm, does that look like an image I’d choose?” I tried to always go for a bird but avians aren’t always one of the options. Note to security programmers: There should always be a bird pick!

But it’s not even enough anymore that you have an email address, a user name, a password, a personal phrase, a personal security image, a display name, and three useless security questions. Several of our financial sites now require a 4-digit pin as well. This crosses the line into cruel.
My husband’s former employer made them change their payroll passwords every six months but you could never use one you’d used before. He worked there 17 years.

I’m truly reaching the end of the line on all this. There’s the Google and social media passwords, never mind your cell phone password and iTunes password and your Locate My Lost iPhone password, and your computer login and email accounts.  There are passwords for your virus software and your blog site, the seven airlines, 11 financial institutions, the ATM, the bill paying, six healthcare portals, retiree benefits, 27 assorted vendors, Staples, the pet meds place, your 1-800-Flowers account, the toy sites for the grandkids, the newspaper and magazine subscriptions, your Neighborhood Watch, your college alumni link, PayPal, the guest login on your home WiFi, assorted software renewal logins, TurboTax, Skype, Amazon, YouTube, your husband’s Droid, never mind Social Security and Medicare for us oldies. What’s my password? I HAVE NO FRIGGING IDEA! I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH BRAIN CELLS LEFT!

And on top of all that, my Amazon and Kindle book sales accounts and my Press Club interactions only work on Mozilla Firefox and not Internet Explorer. My bank insists on regularly hitting me up for security questions even though I’ve told them 8 billion times that THIS IS A COMPUTER I REGULARLY USE. The idea may have been to make it all easier but it seems like the only people who are finding it so are hackers. Maybe that’s the job of the future, the personal hacker. You just forget all about that password list and the security images and have someone on call to hack into your sites as needed. Since every day someone seems to steal my information from one of the conglomerates I deal with, I wouldn’t even be putting my data at risk since everyone but me seems to have access to it anyway.

The swelling in my brain is going down already.

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