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Peterson: So many passwords, so little memory

Published: Friday, April 4, 2014 12:06 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:05 a.m. CDT

It used to be the only secret password you needed to know was “open sesame,” and behind the door was a treasure of untold fortune.

I haven’t tried that one with computers.

Life is complicated enough, but computers and the Internet have made life unbearable in some respects. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back to the Dark Ages before computers. They can make life richly interesting. And if you have a question, you can type it in and find the answer.

Of course, you have to be careful when searching for the answer. A fair amount of information on the Internet is patently false, misleading or completely unrelated to what you have in mind.

For instance, the first entry to “open sesame” is from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia” that people are writing as they go along. And Wikipedia is good for things like “open sesame,” but I wouldn’t stake my life on all its answers. I don’t trust the people that much.

But the succeeding entries for “open sesame” involve online training courses for businesses, a child-care center, a Lebanese restaurant in Long Beach, Calif., and an automatic door-opening system. Not quite what I was looking for.

And the Google search I did resulted in 27.3 million entries, enough to keep me scrolling for months when all I wanted to make sure of was that “open sesame” was a secret password. I got lucky the No. 1 answer was what I was looking for and not a hundred thousand pages down the screen.

We don’t have a set of encyclopedias to find the answers. What’s a set of encyclopedias, you ask?

I can’t use “open sesame” as a password on my computer because it is too easy to be discovered and my files infiltrated by hackers, people who spend their days and nights trying to burglarize our personal information that is stored on computers.

As great as computers are, we fill them with sensitive information, such as banking records, credit card numbers and family pictures from last Christmas. Hackers want to steal our savings, charge purchases to our accounts and live vicariously through our pictures of Christmases past.

So we buy software to protect ourselves from hackers and ne’er do wells. And we create passwords so that only we can get into our files. The professionals don’t recommend using “1, 2, 3, 4” or “a, b, c, d” or “password” as your password because, surprisingly, too many people already do that, and they are at risk of losing everything. Some people just don’t get it.

But I get it, and my life couldn’t be more complicated because of it. I can’t access half of the accounts I have because I can’t remember my password. Or – they added another level of security – my username, or my four-digit personal identification number, and for those of you who don’t speak English, that is PIN.

I have a file card box on my desk that has all of that information written on cards. I file them by the name of the account, A to Z, from Amazon to zazzle.com, and the thing is stuffed. I couldn’t begin to memorize the contents, which is what the experts recommend.

My username can be any of five different things. I have three or four basic PINs. I have a basic password that is pretty complicated that I try to use for most everything, but that has its variations, and I have to remember who I am varying them with. But over the years, I have developed other hard-to-remember passwords, and without my file box, I’d be lost.

You want your password to be something with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols such as #, &, ! and %, which used to mean swear words in comics and stories. Just for the heck of it, this is how I feel about passwords: #&!%.

But the computer I use at work requires me to change my password every three or four months to keep the hackers guessing. And 14 days before the password expires, I am reminded each descending day to change my password today. At first, I thought I could get away with alternating two passwords so I would never forget them. Wrong.

I can’t use any of the past 10 passwords I have created, and if you multiply three or four months by 10, you come up with about 30 or 40 months – years. I play variations on a theme in hopes of remembering them, but I am running out of variations. I’m afraid I’ll forget.

I’d go with “open sesame,” but that’s exactly what Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves are hoping for.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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