From email accounts to Netflix queues, passing on passwords
Every Marx Brothers fan knows the password is always “Swordfish.” That was the magic word that got Groucho, Harpo, Chico and yes, even Zeppo, into a speakeasy in “Horse Feathers” way back in 1932.
That password I can remember.
If only I could remember any of the 8,000 passwords I need to navigate 2016’s digital universe.
From my various e-mail accounts to corporate portals and Netflix queues, the world has become one endless procession of creating and changing ever more complex sequences of letters and numbers known as passwords.
At first it was easy. “McIntyre.” Too easy. Okay how about “McIntyre#1?” Still too easy. “D.McIntyre?” No? Alright, how about “MisterFluffyButt?” That’s my neighbor’s cat’s name.
Who else could possibly be using “MisterFluffyButt?” Other than my neighbor.
Last week Lorrie Cranor, the chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, published a blog titled “Time to rethink mandatory password changes.”
Cranor cites numerous research studies, including work at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carleton University that show the more we change our passwords the more likely we are to come up with easily hacked combinations of letters and numbers.
After studying old password patterns researchers were able to guess the new passwords on 41-percent of accounts in less than three seconds.
I currently maintain eight e-mail accounts. Don’t ask. All of them have a common password despite the constant hectoring from tech gurus who insist I’m playing digital Russian roulette by sharing the same password across multiple platforms. Meanwhile for the past 10 months I’ve been locked out from the one account requiring a new password every other week. At least like it’s every other week.
Not that long ago if you knew your street address and Social Security number you could go anywhere in life. Last year The Wife made reservations at an Italian restaurant and was given a seven-digit reservation number!
The Wife: “If I don’t have my seven-digit reservation number are you giving our table away?”
Italian Restaurant Girl: “No, ma’am.”
The Wife: “Then just keep it table for two at seven-thirty.”
All these passwords are supposed to protect us from prying eyes, yet we then log on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to spill the most intimate details of our lives. The other day I learned my drycleaner had a Colonoscopy.
Americans have had a long and complex relationship with passwords and secret handshakes. Historically we feared secret societies: the Society of Cincinnati, the Masons and Yale’s Skull and Bones were once debated as hotly in political circles as the size of Donald Trump’s penis is in today’s GOP debates.
What exactly does go on at Bohemian Grove? And don’t get me started about the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission!
On the other hand countless aging frat boys are still steamed those snobs at Alpha Epsilon Pi snubbed them and I’ve yet to be invited to Disneyland’s Club 33. They’ll find my skeleton on the sidewalk before I’ll ever be waved into the Argyle club.
I can’t even get into my Amazon account.
We’ve accepted this insane ritual of musical passwords because at some fundamental level we don’t trust the technology that’s taken over our lives. As our smart phones listen in on our private conversations and our Roombas skittle across the hardwood floors sweeping up the dog hair and stray Cheerios we’re left to wonder what else is being swept up?
Personally, I’m OK with anyone who wants to hack my e-mail accounts. Ninety percent is spam and the other 10 percent are complaints from readers who hate my guts.
Knock yourself out.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 on AM 790. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org