and passwords: They're
not always a good combination
Comedian John Oliver, a native of Great Britain, is best known here for his work on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” But Oliver now has his own HBO series, also keyed to news events. It’s called “Last Week Tonight” — and it’s very funny (though things tend to become annoyingly silly during the last minute or two).
It was a segment on Oliver’s program that prompted me to write what follows. The headline on the story was that some group of Russian hackers had a list of 1.5 billion passwords. How that translates to people, I don’t know. It could be these Russian geeks have tapped into only one computer — mine. Because, God knows, it seems I have at least 1.5 billion passwords.
Or it may mean it’s true what we were told a few months ago in a television series — I think it was USA’s “Psych” — that the most popular password is . . . PASSWORD. So maybe the Russian list simply contains the names of 1.5 billion people who were too lazy to come up with anything else.
The worldwide organization of experts on everything —known as THEY — have advised us to change our passwords every few months.
John Oliver, speaking, I’m sure, for 1.5 billion people, said he wasn’t going to do it, because creating a new password is an annoying, often frustrating task. Besides, said Oliver, he can’t remember the answers to those questions he selected to verify his identity. Particularly the name of a pet he had many years ago.
NO DOUBT passwords are a problem . . . a problem that would exist even if there weren’t a bunch of nerdy crooks determined to rob our identities, not to mention our life’s savings, even our souls.
At the same time, creating new passwords offers interesting challenges, not the least of which is to come up with a combination of several letters and numbers that will earn the approval of that computer program that exists only to judge passwords on the basis of their “strength.”
Admit it, your feelings have been hurt when your computer criticizes your suggested password as “weak.” Makes you feel like a wimp.
Oliver suggested things that wouldn’t occur to anyone else in a million years, such as alanaldanewbatman. Funny? Yes, but much too long. I prefer the minimum amount of letters and/or numbers, which was eight the last time I was required to submit a password.
An eight-character password composed of five letters and three numbers has more than 11.8 billion possibilities. So you’d think you’d be safe with almost any password . . . except people have a tendency to use familiar names and numbers that are relatively easy to figure out — such as the street number on their childhood house.
So you have to push yourself to avoid obvious references to your past or your interests. Your model could be a serial number on one of your recent electronic purchases. No, I don’t mean you should copy it; simply notice there seems no rhyme or reason to the sequence of numbers and letters — JX4QT9S3 etc.
WHEN YOU'VE come up with something, be sure to write it down. Label and date it, because it’s amazing how quickly you’ll forget the purpose of the strange-looking doodle on your pad.
If needed, provide a translation, as in GMI6Z2U9 (“Gee, am I sexy to you? Nein!”) or 4TN4TR8E (40 and 40 are 80) or LNR8MN2X (Eleanor ate ham and two eggs).
Then put the password somewhere you’ll be sure to find it when needed. (Suggestion: do not keep it on your computer in a file labeled PASSWORDS.)
Of course, if you are a Florida State football fan and you choose FS34AU31, you’ll have no trouble recalling the password or the reason you created it. (The 2014 BCS championship game; Florida State 34, Auburn University 31.)
MY WIFE, who considers herself a very organized person, is in charge of all our hiding places. Her problem — which I can only mention to her facetiously because she’d never agree there actually is a problem — is that she keeps changing the location of the hiding places. Not just our hiding places. Kitchen items such as salt, sugar, straws, toothpicks, coffee mugs. Well, perhaps they have minds of their own . . . but all I know is they keep moving around our kitchen, sometimes on this counter, a few days later on that counter, then a few days after that in a cupboard.
If I didn’t know better I’d think my wife was gaslighting me.
Oh, she almost always informs me where our list of passwords is, but, frankly, I don’t pay attention. If I need the list, I’ll ask her to get it for me. Just like other husbands throughout the world.
As John Oliver mentioned, answers to your this-is-me-really-would-I-lie identity questions are just as important as the passwords to which they are linked.
A CERTAIN member of our family came up with a few questions several years ago that should have been termed “problematic” by the all-powerful computer that passes judgment on such things.
For example, this family member learned it is not a good idea to use “What is my favorite restaurant,” especially if you are likely to move every few years. No matter how much you liked a restaurant in, say, Providence, Rhode Island, you’ll likely have forgotten its name when you’re living in Santa Monica, California, especially if that Rhode Island restaurant went out of business five years ago.
I suggest avoiding anything labeled a favorite . . . because almost all of us are fickle. I know people who’ve included their favorite rock group . . . only to have that group disband and fade from memory within weeks. Chances are if you have to answer that question a few years down the road, you’ll come up blank.
On the other hand, certain well-documented facts are a bad idea, too, because these are easily found by even the dumbest of hackers. Avoid using your high school nickname or your mother’s maiden name. And if you do use the name of a certain pet, be sure to write it down. My mind is still fairly sharp, but it has become increasingly difficult for me to keep straight the names of pets we’ve had over the years . . . because by now we have had so many.
Among our several cats were three named Smudge, Nipper and Caligula. I’ve yet to forget Smudge and Caligula, but my recollection of Nipper comes and goes, which is weird because he’s the cat we had the longest. So I’d never use one of our cats for anything as important as a password.
However, in the past I occasionally used the names of our dogs, fewer in number, but much more memorable, for reasons both good and bad.
I have since developed my own system for creating passwords, but I’m not willing to share. Needless to say, I’ll be changing my online password as soon as this piece goes public.