Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Tom Walton

Would ‘SicKofPasswOrds’ be a strong or weak password?


Tom Walton.

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Once upon a time, passwords were fun. Especially the board game and television show called Password. On the TV version, a contestant and a celebrity partner would offer one-word clues and try to guess the secret word while host Allen Ludden delivered bon mots and witticisms for half an hour.

However, as popular as the show was back in the day, I’m no longer fond of passwords. Everything I do online, every website I join, requires me to set up a password. Passwords define our lives. There’s no turning back, and for security’s sake, I’m okay with that.

Read the previous column from Tom Walton

But we’re told we’d better be creative in coming up with them.

If I draft a password the website doesn’t like or considers too weak to ward off a hacking invasion, it tells me so in blunt terms.

I appreciate the concern but this numbers game is getting old.

A few years ago I realized my password problem was getting out of hand. I kept a typed list, on three single-spaced sheets of actual paper, of all my IDs and passwords. With all the handwritten changes, it was a mess.

It was a list I considered as important as my passport, and it was tucked away in a place where only I would look. I remember telling my wife several years ago, “If I lose it, just shoot me.” Fortunately, testing her marksmanship never became necessary.

Over time, the list kept growing. Finally, it got to the point I elected to create just one password, an impossible to guess collection of numbers and letters that have nothing to do with any of my personal interests. It wasn’t computer gibberish like some passwords that require at least one number, at least one letter, and at least one keyboard symbol, like an ampersand.

Now there’s a word you don’t type every day. Would spelling out “ampersand” make that a strong or weak password?

The one I came up with was simple to remember. I liked that, and it seemed to help for a while, until I started getting emails from websites telling me I had kept that password combination too long and it was time to come up with something new.

So I changed one letter from lower case to upper case and figured I had beaten the system. But I was my own worst enemy. I would try to log in to a site I seldom visit and forget that I needed to capitalize one letter. It was frustrating.

I remember wondering if I could just change all my passwords to certain four-letter words that are not used in polite company. The curse-word police would object, but I no longer feel the need to be polite so it’s not an issue for me.

A friend of mine has so many passwords she wrote each one on a separate piece of paper and carries them all around with her in her purse. Wrapped in a rubber band, they are her lifeline to the electronic world we all live in now.

I hate to think what her life will be like if she loses her purse and all those slips of paper, especially if her cellphone’s in there too. She’ll have no choice but to rush home to her desktop or tablet and change everything. That assumes her car keys are not in her purse and she’s able to get home in the first place.

It’s not really necessary to do my personal banking online, but like millions of Americans, I do it anyway because I get lazy. I haven’t actually set foot in the bank in months.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, because I’m missing the interaction with fellow humans, but because of cell phones and texting, that ship has already sailed.

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Besides, there’s no denying the convenience. I can even deposit a check in my underwear. Wait a minute. That didn’t sound right. What I mean is I can deposit a check on the bank’s website and it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.

I know. That’s a bell that can’t be unrung. I’m sorry. Stop laughing.

Given the security risk associated with online banking and other web sites where I pay bills, I heed the advice of the experts and change passwords frequently. Sometimes I just tap keys with my eyes closed and accept the result, and I get a new combination that will admit me to each website’s inner sanctum.

A thousand monkeys banging away on a thousand typewriters would write a sequel to Gone With the Wind before they’d stumble upon my current mish-mash of a password.

An alternative if he were still alive: I could just ask Allen Ludden for any suggestions. I’m sure it would be quite clever.

We can all wish we didn’t have to be so secretive, but the real world and the bad dudes who populate it make it a requirement. While I recognize the reality and necessity of it, I think I’ve overdosed on the whole password process.

Is there an organization called Passwords Anonymous? If so, “Hi, I’m Tom.”

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