Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to get your password right

An ominous message flashes up on the computer screen at Chronicle Towers. From the System. Your password, says the System Message, will expire in 14 days. Do you want to change it now?

Well no, actually. It would be preferable never to have to change it again, and the idea of “wanting” to change it is philosophically akin to the idea of “wanting” to change one’s toes.

But the System is relentless. The next day, the count is down to 13. Today, it’s 12.

The System is clever, almost to the point of sentience. The System can count backwards, among other things.

It can also recognise that the passwords you, in your insignificance, try to set up, are utterly beneath its tentacular, Systemic, dignity.

Still, you give it a try.

1234 you type, more in hope than in expectation. Insufficient characters, says the System.

password you tap in, more in desperation than in hope. Insufficient upper case letters comes the reply.

Password Nope. Must contain a punctuation character.

Password? Nice try, sucker. Must contain at least one numeral.

Password1? You must be joking. You used that one  in August 2011.

Let us get this absolutely straight, continues the System, conversationally. For acceptable security, your password must be at least 10 characters long, and  contain at least one upper case letter, one lower case letter, one punctuation character and one numeral. Would you like to try again?

AsQlll4&X? That will do nicely.

Pausing only to reflect that while the System may be quite clever,  it’s not clever enough to use apostrophes, you proceed to commit your new password to memory. Which is where the trouble really starts.

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged, that for a password to be secure it must be complicated, and for it to be memorable it must be simple. Yours may be secure, but it’s utterly unmemorable. So you write it down, defeating the entire object of the exercise.

And when you get home and try to do a bit of cyber-banking, the fun starts all over again.

The System at Funds “R” Us has even more questions than the System at work. And the two of them  appear to be talking about you behind your back. Perhaps they’re Facebook friends.

Key in the second, fourth and ninth characters of your passphrase, says the System at the Bank.

b 8 % you type, referring  to the dog-eared notebook in which you keep it easily to hand. Along with your mother’s maiden name and where you were when you first had a snog.

Thank you. And your password?

AsQlll4&X? Try again. That is the password for Chronicle Towers.

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