O'BRIEN: Passwords a necessary pain in the computer age

Posted: Oct. 26, 2012 5:06 pm Updated: Dec. 8, 2012 3:15 am

Think for a minute about how many passwords you have to know.

While making our lives easier, computers also make them more difficult thanks to all of those darn passwords. Yes, I understand they're a necessary evil. I don't want any schmoe being able to access my bank account or -- heaven forbid -- hack into my Twitter page.

Have you had time to think yet? Let me do an off-the-top-of-my-head list of things I have to keep passwords for while you take a moment:

Home computer, iPhone, messages for work phone, work email, iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, bank accounts, credit card accounts, AmerenCIPS, DirecTV, Sirius radio, Netflix, Yahoo and how to look up my oldest son's grades at Quincy Junior High School.

It would be one thing if I could use one password for all of those accounts, but I can't. Some need a capital letter in them. Others need numbers, while others need special characters. Some need to be at least eight characters long. How are we supposed to keep track of all of that?

Unfortunately, there's really not a good way.

"You could write them down on piece of paper and stick it into a house safe," said Eric Thomas, president of ETC ComputerLand.

Thomas, who guessed he has at least 70 different passwords he has to remember just for his own personal use, says there are some tools that we can use. A Windows user, Thomas says he uses a program called Password Corral to keep all of his passwords in order. Of course, he'd better not forget his password to Password Corral or he won't have any of his other passwords.

As there is for everything these days, I'm sure there's an Apple app for password storage for Apple folks. But how can I trust that the person isn't just going to take all of those passwords and hack away?

Some of us aren't very creative with our passwords. As a matter of fact, some of us are pretty darn lazy.

SplashData, a California-based company that produces apps, released its list of most popular passwords in 2012. Showing no originality at all, the word "password" was No. 1 on the list for the second straight year. The numerical combination of "123456" was followed by "12345678." If you have any of those three words in your password group, run to your nearest computer immediately and think up something different. At least make it tough on the hackers.

So what makes for a good password? Thomas said you have to mix things up.

"A password should contain lowercase and uppercase letters," he said. "You should use at least one number and one special character like an exclamation point. You should have at least eight characters, and the longer the better."

Thomas warned not to make passwords that are too easy to figure out. He said we may post things to Facebook, like our pets' names and birthday and anniversary dates. If you've told the world that your dog Rover was born on Oct. 31, 2008, on your Facebook profile, you'd better shy away from using "Rover103108" as a password.

The only thing worse than having all of these passwords is having to change them all the time. Thomas said changing passwords is a necessary evil though.

For those of you who are like me and suffering from password fatigue, there could be help on the way. Thomas says he has a laptop that has a fingerprint reader. Instead of typing in a password to start the unit, all he has to do is swipe his finger.

Maybe the day will come when all we'll need to do is give a fingerprint or a scan of our eyeball in order to get into our various accounts. Until then, our challenge is to come up with passwords better than the word "password."




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