In the 1980s I read that the modern generation would have to know five times as much as their grandparents.
Thinking back on my grandparents’ life, the statement made sense. Telephone numbers to remember, learn how to use a wringer washing machine or a pop-up toaster.
And then the universe invented The Password.
Thou shalt not pass.
Once upon a time you only had to remember your own name, like Rumpelstiltskin.
Then whether you had put the 123 before the word Password or after it.
Then it was the name of your pet or an old girlfriend. And when you needed to change your password, 123 was changed to 124.
Electronic systems require passwords to be at least 10 characters long, include upper and lower case letters, some numbers, and something called a “Special Character”. After some trial and error I found out that means one of the +, >, <, } or # keys – who knew?
Password creation is Snakes and Ladders.
Square One: think of a word that makes sense to you. Not your name or your birthday date or your telephone number.
Square Two: try to write the word in hieroglyphics on the keyboard so it will end up looking like the word you chose but has numbers or symbols replacing letters: for example, replace ‘a’ with @ or ‘e’ with 3.
Square Three: put in a + or a > or a ? to jazz it up a bit.
All good - until the computer system says that you can’t use that one. It looks too similar to the last one you used and “violates password history”
Back to Square One.
Security of information has three identification factors:
- who you are (your name, your photo or, in extreme cases, your fingerprints),
- what you know (a password or a PIN number), or
- what you carry (a key or a swipe card).
Back in the day, any one of these three factors on its own was sufficient for most security purposes. You had a key to open the door or you had your driver’s licence or your (very simple) password.
Then things went wrong.
Someone who didn’t have the correct door key turned up with a piece of field artillery and blew the door off. Or they “hacked” your password (note: using “Password” as a password is a bit obvious, even if you add 123 to it).
And this is how we got to the hieroglyphic stage I mentioned.
Identification has now gone deeper into Never-Never land.
Some sadist invented 2FA.
2FA is an acronym for Two Factor Identification.
(A pedantic side-track: shouldn’t the acronym for Two Factor Identification be 2FI? Obviously smarter brains than mine ……)
Anyway, the essence of 2FA is that you know your password to the system. And after that you have to know a code. But you don’t have to remember the code – it constantly changes and the current one has been sent to your smartphone.
You open your phone (another password needed here). Then open up the password-protected application that has the number you need. Then you go back to the system you were originally trying to get into and enter the code that was sent to the phone.
Of course, this last stage presupposes that the computer hasn’t gone to sleep from boredom while you’ve been away mucking about trying to remember the passwords needed to get the code number off your phone.
If you’ve managed to get all these ducks to line up in single file, Hey Presto! You’ll be allowed in.
Otherwise, the Snakes and Ladders analogy starts again.
And passwords are like raw meat. They “go off” after a while. The system advises that you have ten days to create a new password or you will be shut out of its secrets. More snakes and ladders while you try to invent a new password that makes some kind of sense to you, doesn’t resemble any other password you’ve used in the last decade, and looks like some ancient Egyptian scholar drew it on the wall.
If you’ve managed to navigate this minefield, how do you keep track of all these passwords pin numbers and user names? Writing them down on paper is frowned upon – someone might steal it and you will be password-less.
Technology has a solution to this most modern of dilemmas. You can get a password recorder “app” for your smartphone. Here you can enter all your passwords in little files that separate your password collection. Great idea! – now you don’t have to remember that password that you created yesterday to protect your valuable account at the on-line haberdashery shop.
You just look it up on your phone.
Brilliant!. Love it!
Spot the drawback?
You have to create a password to protect the password collection.
To quote Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, “AAARGGGHHHH!”
I don’t know about my grandparents’ knowledge, but I’ve calculated that I have to remember 123 more things than I did even five years ago.
And all of them are passwords.
PS. There is a life saver. Using swear words for a password is OK, so long as they are suitable encrypted and don’t read the same as real swear words.