I know a man who has a problem — one little remarked upon but shared by millions. Let us call it the attack of the killer passwords, which sounds more exciting than the actual details.
The man started his career when computers were rare. When his work finally provided him with an office computer, they gave him a password. He had never had a password before, and the novelty made him feel special.
It was a simple password, just a few letters and some numbers. It was not one he would have chosen for himself — being an average Joe, he would have used his dog’s name combined with an important date dear to him, such as when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl.
The password was easy to remember because it was the only one he had. Sometime later, he got a computer at home, and he then had to come up with a password of his own.
By this time, he realized he shouldn’t just use words and numbers that could easily be guessed by someone of doubtful character, such as a Ravens fan. Not a problem. Two computers, two passwords — life was simple and good.
As his career progressed, his retirement savings were lodged in two accounts. When the institutions overseeing them began to provide statements online, he was moved to get passwords so he could see his retirement savings going up and down like corks in a storm-tossed sea. Now he had four passwords to remember. (Wait, is that the password for Account A or Account B?)
As this was going on, the iPhone became popular, and a simple password was required for it — even for the steam-driven version his wife had handed down to him so she could get the new model. So that was now five passwords — no, come to think of it, six, because he also had a bank card to get cash from ATMs, and that required a PIN, a password by any other name.
When he joined Facebook, that too required a password, bringing the total to seven. His LinkedIn membership took the magic number to eight. The part of his brain devoted to password storage was now becoming strained.
Yet he did not realize that this period of having a mere eight passwords would soon come to be regarded as halcyon days. He was on the brink of a fateful decision that would soon attract passwords as a dog attracts fleas.
He retired and moved away. That meant a new bank account and, you guessed it, a new password. He also had to get a new Gmail account for his e-mails, which required another new password. Of course.
Hitherto, he had managed to go through life without an Apple ID number, but one password later he had one. His wife got into the act and began to fill in the answers to security questions on his behalf without telling him.
He was surprised to find out later what car he first drove and what beach he first visited, neither of which comported to reality. He does not know how he will remember this bogus information, but he has forgotten what account was involved anyway.
Then the new Wi-Fi needed a password. I think that’s 12 passwords, but the man also joined a tennis league. Yes, a password is involved, and the man fears that if he makes two consecutive faults in writing it, he loses a set.
That brings up a point. The attack of the killer passwords comes at a time in the man’s life when ignorant people make disparaging comments about senior moments. Such cruel remarks could not be further from the truth. We seniors are as sharp as tacks.
Where was I? Oh, yes, one day password-less technology will be commonplace and our personal information will be as safe as government files probed by Chinese hackers. This man cannot wait. He has a tattered old notebook, written in code, which he realizes somewhat defeats the purpose of computers.
Don’t worry about this booklet falling into the wrong hands. His house has a new security system. And a new password to make it work.