What Is Your Password?

October 20, 2011

I remember a time when there was only one piece of information that was required to prove your identity other than your name, and that was your address.  We didn’t even have zip codes in those days and our telephone numbers were still seven digits because area codes had not yet come into existence.

We all had social security numbers but no one ever asked us what they were.  We used to think it was so funny when someone could recite their social security number from memory.  The running joke was that only idiots remembered their social security number.  Little did we know that years later, we would all be expected to provide that information on every official document as well as for everything else in the universe.

For years, we each carried our social security card in our wallet lest we forget the number when we most needed it.  I recently ran across mine that was in a wallet I hadn’t used since my salad days.  I don’t recall when I committed the number to memory but I know the card would still be in my wallet if I hadn’t been sure that I could recite it on demand.

Just as we were getting past the groaning and grunting about how we, like prisoners, no longer had names and were being reduced to a number, we were then told that there were people out there who were going to steal our identity if we didn’t have passwords.  

Enter the password requirement.

Now, just about everything you’ve ever done online or in a place of business, required a password.  For those who are memory challenged, this can be an overwhelming requirement.  Those who had to listen to the myriad complaints from disgruntled customers told people to use their birthday or anniversary as their password, something easy to remember.

My own thinking at the time was that if it was so easy to remember, it would be just as easy for someone else to figure it out.  If they couldn’t figure it out, any decent researcher could get that information from the internet.  So where is the security that passwords were supposed to be ensuring, especially when hackers have been breaking into bank accounts and online retail business records with so little effort?

Apparently, brainiacs arrived at the same conclusion.

Enter the pin number requirement.

It was bad enough when you were required to enter four letters as your password.  Then you had to enter six letters or more.  Then you were required to enter six letters plus numbers or eight letters and some numbers.  Now, you had an additional code of four letters that was going to be called a pin number.  And heaven help you if you forgot that pin number.  And you were probably going to burn in hell if you forgot both your password and your pin number.

Yikes!!  Today, I forgot my password and I was given the third degree as if I were a criminal.  Any moment, I expected to be handcuffed and put in a prison uniform and charged with some misdemeanor.  It took about forty minutes to establish that I was who I said I was, and it didn’t even involve any money.  I can only imagine what I would have had to go through if I had done any online banking and forgotten my password.

It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.  These things don’t protect us.  Hackers probably have access to that information faster than we can rummage through our purses and wallets to retrieve it.

At one time, we would have believed that we were making it more difficult for someone to steal our identity and our assets by adding another layer of code for a hacker to get through.  However, Wikileaks has shown us that it is relatively easy to get through the most complicated codes and the only thing that has been subverted with these numerous passwords and pin numbers is the good will of the consumer.

I’d like to go back to simpler times.  I think I might even be willing to give up my computer, with which I have a love-hate relationship, if I could be assured that identity theft would be a thing of the past and passwords and pin numbers could be relegated to the recycle bin permanently.  I don’t know whether I’d be willing to deal with carbon paper and white-out again but surely some enterprising individual could come up with something between a typewriter and a computer to protect us from viruses and thieves.

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