Opinion: Taking a pass on words


My wife’s first New Year’s resolution was to take a class at our library about technology safety, like how to create hard-to-hack passwords. When she got home, just for practice, she changed the code on the garage door touchpad, and then she went shopping. I wrote this column on my cellphone, sitting in the car in front of our house. I hoped she wrote the new code down. I was freezing.

Computer scammers gather family names, addresses, pets and past jobs, and then do millions of test-run combinations in microseconds. I was shocked to learn that dickwolfsiewishtv would be easy to crack. One tech website verified hackers could figure out that password in 11 seconds. If I worked for WTH, it would take 14 seconds. I’m not sure it’s worth the move.

“Do you have any upgraded security codes, Mary Ellen?”

“Yes. For our savings account, I used the first letter of every boyfriend I ever dated, plus the address number of every house we’ve lived in. I increased each digit by ‘one’ so that 1450 becomes 2561. I capitalized every other letter and then sprinkled these symbols throughout:  %^&**#@.”

I thought the profanity was unnecessary, but according to that same website, it would take even the most crooked computer geek 11,000 years to uncover that code to gain access to our account. With our savings, we’ll go broke long before then, anyway.

“Mary Ellen, how will you possibly remember a password like that?”

“I won’t remember it. I’ll write it down.”

“If you have to look it up every time, anyway, why not just pick totally random numbers and characters? Why make it so complicated?”

“What a password pooper. You would not do well in my class.”

“OK, Mary Ellen, our new passwords can’t be guessed. Where are you going to hide this written list?”

“I don’t know. I think that’s the next class. And why would I tell you? You can’t keep a secret.”

“You’re right. A couple of martinis and I’ll be spouting off Kh^TbL1356R^7867%^&*#@ to every crook who will listen. By the way, your password is safe with me because even if I wanted to blab it out, I don’t know what this is called.”

Yesterday, Mary Ellen went back to the library. Her instructor said it’s safer to change passwords from a remote location than on your home computer. The phone rang: “Dick, it’s me. I need our current bank account password.”

“I’m not going to tell you over the phone. Someone could be listening in on our conversation.”

“Lighten up, Dick. It’s not healthy to be that paranoid.”