Password Safety



Don't pick your initials. Or your birthday. Or your address, or your phone number. Your mother's maiden name is off limits, not to mention the names of your father, brother, sister, pets and favorite sports teams - also out of the question.

Hmm. A hobby, then? Yeah, like everyone who sees you walking by in your N*Sync Baby Tee isn't going to guess that "JUSTIN#1!" is the combination of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks you've decided on as your password to guard your vital information.

E-mail and Instant Messenger are only the beginning. The typical student has passwords coming out the ears; at one point in my high school career I remember having sixteen different passwords, all for different free e-mail accounts. Services like College Club and FastWeb (for scholarship searches) also ask their users to maintain a password along with their user ID.

The confusion caused by all these mismatched phrases and numbers is enough to send even the most tech-savvy young adult screaming for stamps and envelopes. Without the easy-to-remember (and therefore, easy-to-crack) passwords derived from the previously mentioned methods of selection, there are only so many ways a person can remember the code that unlocks their personal info. I mean, it's going to be something that will confuse people, but you have to remember it too. Which means that after one or two ever-so-slightly-less-than-obvious choices, you're out of luck and it's time to start reaching.

I went to open a checking account this weekend, in preparation for studying abroad this year, and it suddenly hit me as the service representative looked across her desk, pushed her keyboard towards me, and said, "Would you like to pick a password?" that I'm all tapped out. I read over the lines on the computer screen as my mind raced, trying to decide on a combination of alphanumerics (letters, numbers, punctuation marks similar to UB's criteria for a UB IT password) four to six characters long, that wasn't derived from any of the more easily guessed possibilities. After a long couple minutes of staring at the screen, blankly, while Brenda looked politely in the opposite direction, I finally said (weakly, I might add), "Umm, can I like, sign up now and pick a password later?"

She looked at me and shook her head. "No, I think you need to pick one now. But you can always change it later!"

Oh. It was worth a try. I did finally decide on a password, but I'm not happy with it, I probably won't remember it, and even if I do manage to keep those numbers and letters locked in my brain, there are certain things one just shouldn't simply settle on. A password should be perfect, succinct, easy-to-remember and impossible to crack.

All these accounts make me eager to see the day when thumb-printing and retina scanning are commonplace. Hahaha! Not only will passwords be obsolete and uncrackable, but they'd also involve a way for Big Brother (Microsoft, the government, AOL, take your pick) to keep tabs on way more than your spending preferences. Forget Passport and whatever AOL's counter-offer to that is going to be, this would be a fully integrated web based on BIOLOGY.

Hmm. That reminds me of this sci-fi/history novel I read over summer break, "The Plague Tales," by Ann Benson. Talk about creepy. In her near-future world the government had scans of a person's entire BODY inside AND out. What's more, while they were optional for anyone in the USA (as long as you weren't a criminal), if you were going to be in the UK for more than four weeks their government required you to have one done and on file. And they were NOT pleasant things. Full-body probes and a scan that required items inserted in certain cavities. Like, every single one.

Eww.

Wow. When I look at it that way, maybe remembering a couple extra passwords isn't such a steep price after all.