Ali Baba had it good. In medieval Persia, one password was enough. Imagine Ali nowadays, having to modify the magic words once a month. From OPEN SESAME to opEn1sEsame%. Hieroglyphics are back in fashion.
I tried to log into my online bank account (or was it Centrelink, Ticketek, health insurance, superannuation, ATO, email, Twitter, Facebook ... or any of the plethora of online platforms for which I now need a password) and received the following gibberish masquerading as a message:
The password supplied does not meet the minimum complexity requirements. Please select another password that meets all the following criteria: is at least 8 characters; has not been used in the previous 9 passwords; must not have been changed within the last 2 days; does not contain your full name; contains at least 3 of the following 4 character groups: English uppercase characters (A through Z); English lowercase characters (a through z); numerals (0 through 9); and non-alphabetic characters (such as !,$,#,%). Type a password which meets these requirements into both text boxes while standing on your head, tapping your nose, rolling your eyes and yelling "shoot me now!"
The average citizen now needs the memory of a computer to remember all their passwords, presuming they can remember the password to that computer. Out of memory overload I have taken to writing them down, which is of course ironic and counter-productive given they are intended to protect my security.
I know there's an app that can jog my middle-aged memory but apparently it requires a password. Or a thumbprint. Not sure I want to hand over body data just yet. I'll blink when they scan my eyeball.
Still, sometimes a short memory comes in handy. My One-And-Only was relaxed when the Ashley Madison accounts became public. I've got zero interest in polyamory if it requires yet another cryptic mix of letters and numbers.
I can only store so much in the cluttered space between my ears. It's a similar story with PIN numbers. Far too many. I am beginning to think that PIN stands for PROLIFIC IN NUMBER. Credit card, mobile phone, alarm system, frequent flyer membership ... My wife and I only have a joint bank account so we can remind each other of the PIN.
Unfortunately she wasn't with me at Sydney Airport when, before boarding a flight, I decided to buy my daughter a present. At the shop counter, when prompted for my PIN, my memory went black-hole blank. I raised my head, narrowed my eyes and scanned that space between my ears. The shop assistant tapped her painted nails on the counter...
When the number finally surfaced I forgot its sensitive nature and unwittingly voiced it aloud while keying it in. Boarding the flight a few minutes later, pink gumboots for my daughter in hand, I realised the shop assistant had both my card number and PIN and could shout herself some new nail polish should she wish.
I fastened my seat belt and rang my bank.
"What's your password for the account?" the tele-teller asked.
That space between my ears is more cluttered than I thought.
A dozen security questions followed as I attempted to prove I was me, something I even doubted myself at one point. The only time in history I needed my flight to be late it was actually ahead of schedule. A steward had me hang up before I could answer all the questions. The shop assistant had three hours to splurge, depending on headwinds.
My problems with passwords aren't restricted to planes. Cars cause me similar headaches. I purchased one a couple of years ago complete with handsfree Bluetooth. It took a matter of minutes to sign myself up to years of repayments but a full 10 days for the dealer to remember the password to the Bluetooth. First he tried four zeros. Then four ones. "That's what most people use as a password these days," said the bemused dealer, who would never have found a job at News Of The World.
Passwords are cluttering my brain and ensuring there is no room left in my head for high school French and wedding anniversaries. Like Ali Baba, I now have just one password for everything. I know it's foolish. Those 40 thieves will have a field day.