The Problem with Passwords

We all struggle with it. Password for this, password for that. All systems seem to have different rules. Only numbers, only letters, numbers and letters only, don’t use special characters, must use special characters (what makes them special anyway?). The length of the password you can use also varies.

The issue gets compounded because some systems require you to change the password every few months, and won’t allow one that was previously used. Although most people have tried to solve this problem by using the same password everywhere, it really doesn’t work for the digitally active. If you are gainfully employed you probably have, at a minimum, 4 to 5 systems you must access at your job. There’s your network, e-mail, benefits program, performance management, expense reporting and payroll at the very least. It escalates quickly from there. I think I have about 10 systems I routinely access during the day and several of them have different password rules.

Then of course there are the password hints you need to fill out. So when you change your password you have to change your hint, or it’s not much of a hint is it.

My company even has a system that begins to nag you 14 days before the password expires. Then it keeps asking you every day until that fateful day. And now we have incorporated a security fob that generates a new passcode ever 60 seconds. So when off site, you are authenticated by using your username, password a PIN (set up only for this purpose) plus the passcode. Wow.

When you add in the username as another factor it starts to send some people over the edge. Because inevitably someone else with your name has registered at your bank so you are forever known as BillJohnson1.

Many financial institutions are adding another layer of protection with two-factor authentication. Usually this requires you to select and answer some questions and then pops them up from time to time when you’re on the site to ensure it’s you.

Then there is the selecting your e-mail address quandary. If you have switched ISPs over the years you continually have to settle for more obscure spellings slowly losing your identity. I recently added a gmail account and my e-mail identity that I have had for nearly 15 years was not supported at gmail. Not enough characters! Ugh. I still pay my original ISP $21.95 per month so I can keep that e-mail address.

And last but not least are those wonderful psychedelic pictures of words that are supposedly not machine readable and prove you are human. Here is one from Facebook that pops up when you want to add a friend.


So what to do about this? My recommendation is to sit down pre-select and memorize at least two passwords. One very long and strong one, at least 10 or 11 characters using letters and numbers. A handy way to do this is take lyrics from a favorite song, or poem or quote and use a word or words from that phrase and add numbers. Like, “Only the good die young.” Your password could be dieyoung21. Another method is use a favorite sports star, actor, musician, etc. Since they are outside your family (never use pet or kid names, too easy to crack) they are ideal. Select the other password by using the same method, but put numbers on the front and back. This could be the year of your birth, like 19dieyoung75.

My last hint is to use the ability to change the description of your bookmarks as a crutch. Save the login page of the site to your favorites. Then edit that bookmark with the name of the company or system, your username and password. But only type the first couple of characters, then use **** for the rest. Using the exact number of *’s to complete the password. Like what I’ve done in this case with Fandango.


Good luck out there.

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