Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Password Overload

The IT guy at work told me the other day that, as part of the new security measures, I would need to change my log-on password to the corporate file server each and every month. And I could not reuse any previous password.

"No."  I said flatly. "That's the last straw. I can't do this any longer.  Either I keep the same password, or I'll find ways to make your life a living hell."  In reality, I can't really do much to this IT guy, other than occasionally temporarily withhold a signature he needs to buy new hardware or software. Though he doesn't know it, his power over me is far greater than mine over him. Perception is it's own reality, though, and he believes that my senior status makes me someone to be heeded.

I had just had enough. Ten years ago, or even five years, computer passwords were a breeze. I think I perhaps had one email password, and another for the corporate file server.  Not all that long ago, two passwords were plenty.

Gradually, thing proliferated, and eventually got to the point where the number of required passwords is in the dozens. I now have to keep them written down in a little cheat sheet notebook. Mind you, I don't password-protect my home personal computer or cell phone, or anything else where you have an option not to.  It's really only the essential accounts, or those where it is mandatory, where I use passwords.

Even with this minimalist approach, I counted the other day and came up with 39 various on-line accounts or memberships that require passwords for me to remember. Given that I have trouble remembering whether my most recent birthday was the 57th  or 58th , you can see the dilemma that I'm in.

A quick survey:  4 on-line banking accounts (one personal, three business accounts; 3 airline frequent flier accounts; 4 credit card accounts (three personal, one business); 3 health care accounts (one for my GP doctor, one for a specialist, and one for my flex-spending health account); 6 professional groups (mostly relating to the publishing industry); 2 investment/retirement accounts; 3 social media accounts (two personal, one professional);  5 home entertainment accounts (things like I-Tunes, Netflix, Amazon, Comcast), 3 website/blogging accounts; and a number of single accounts for things like various on-line merchants that the family uses routinely.

For awhile, it was easy, because I just used the same password over and over. But then out of spite or sadism, the accounts began to insist on diabolical variations: your password had to be at least 14 characters (or nine, or 17) in length, and it had to include an uppercase letter, and 3 numbers, and a symbol—and it couldn't use any portion of your own name.  And now it was not only a password, but you had to create a user name, as well, which had its own set of arcane requirements.

I really do imagine that there are some twisted young adults who dream this stuff up, because just when you got this part down, they started adding "security questions" to the mix. At first it was easy enough: your mother's maiden name; name of your first school. But pretty soon it wasn't a single security question, but two or three. Recently, I was faced with an account that required you to pick five different questions among a possible ten. And only two of them were slam dunks. Among the others, I had to pick from "best childhood friend," "favorite author," "job you wanted when you were growing up," and "street where you grew up."

Now, my answers to these are variable, or impossible. I had a bunch of good friends growing up, and which was the favorite varied from moment to moment: are we talking kindergarten or seventh grade?  My favorite author will depend on my mood: there are at least five that are favorites at different times. Growing up, there were times I wanted to be an author, times when I wanted to be a geologist, times when I wanted to be a doctor, not to mention the time I was set on becoming a photographer for Playboy. I didn't grow up on a street at all, but on a country road with no name at all.  So I had to pick random questions and random answers, then note them dutifully in my cheat-sheet notebook so I could retrieve them in the future.

And the coup de grace: now you are forced to interpret a couple of fuzzy photos of jumbled letters and type these in, as well, before you can pass through the gauntlet and get access to a paypal account containing $17.29, which you've been too lazy to close out. This interpretation of two fuzzy words or numbers is supposed to prevent automated computer "spammers" from sending you lots of junk mail, but the real effect is to prevent ME from getting into my own accounts.

It's all quite an indignity for a geezer. If I ever appear to vanish suddenly from the world of blogging and cyber reality, it's possible that something unfortunate has happened to me. But it's more likely I've hidden my cheat sheet containing my passwords and have forgotten where I put it.

But the IT guy did manage to make an exception for me—I'll not have to change my password monthly, or ever. The tradeoff is that he assigned me the permanent password rather than letting me choose it myself.

I'm now "GeezerJAckass123!!" for all eternity.


  1. I've written about this very topic myself. My only option is to carry a note in my wallet that has all my passwords on it. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of the password? Sheesh!


    And the final straw....I have to interpret one of those fuzzy number/word deals to post here, too.

  2. Apologies for that. I wasn't aware that it was being required here. If I can figure out a way to turn it off, I'll do so.