Opinion: Taking the Joy out of passwords


My wife, Mary Ellen, is extremely concerned about identity theft and is urging me to change my passwords.

Many of the words we create to log in are what a website might call “weak passwords.” I thought I used some pretty nifty ones in the past. For example, I once used Joy1959 for my ATM account. Joy was my first girlfriend back in those days. I knew this was a very good password because even Joy didn’t know she was my girlfriend.

If it’s been a while since you changed your passwords, the sites will now give you specific directions:

  • It shouldn’t be personal data.
  • It shouldn’t be a pet’s name.
  • It shouldn’t be a person’s name.
  • It shouldn’t be a past address.
  • And everyone knows you had a crush on Joy.

Then they warn: Be sure you remember your password. If you must write it down:

  • Don’t write it on your wall.
  • Don’t put it in a computer file.
  • Don’t put it on a sticky note.
  • Just memorize it, OK?

They don’t like old passwords, but I tried to revive JOY1959. It rejected it not only because it was weak, but because someone else was using it. I always suspected there was another guy back in those days. Now, I had the proof.

Then I tried my birthday. I got a prompt: Very weak, claiming it was too easy to figure out. I think I look younger than my age, so this really annoyed me. Also, no one has remembered my birthday in 40 years, so I wasn’t concerned about that information getting out.

I tried putting in BOB, who’s my best friend, but they just hated that. The prompt said: You have to be kidding.

No, I needed a strong password, so I put in HERCULES. It was rejected as weak. Then I tried SAMPSON. This time, very weak. I don’t think the people at this website have read their mythology. But it did answer the age-old question of who was stronger.

At one point, I just ran my fingers haphazardly across the keyboard.

Very strong, said the prompt, followed by, Please remember to write your new password down.  Write it down? I had no idea what I typed. Was it KKDFJHG%$, or was it YQWOKW?0&?

I finally found a password that was acceptable. It was deemed very strong. Then the website asked me a series of personal questions in case it ever needed to confirm my identity,

What was the name of your first girlfriend?: (Joy. Wait, now I’m thinking it was Judy).

Your best friend’s name: (It was Bob, but lately he has ticked me off).

A strong fictional character: (Wait, wait, don’t tell me — Mighty Mouse).

Here’s my new password: J&U*HY*&^JG%^JOY. I’m giving it to you just in case I can’t remember it. Please put it in a safe place.