Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Unlocking Passwords

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When did the password become part of everyday life? Most people will have something to say about passwords. Some dislike them and hope for their elimination sooner rather than later. Some, specifically Ian Urbina in an article on The New York Times, see them as a fascinating extension of people and what makes us (and them) unique.

As Urbina puts it, “We despise them – yet we imbue them with our hopes and dreams, our dearest memories, our deepest meanings. They unlock much more than our accounts.”

We’re told not to choose passwords that have personal significance, and yet we attach details and sentimentality to them that makes them distinct, such as the name of our first pet or our first love. We break the rules because we’re more likely to remember things that mean something to us. But that’s also what makes them weak.

Still, we can’t win. Those who err on the non-personal side of caution are even more exposed. A recent article on Business Insider reported that ‘123456’ and ‘password’ were the most popular passwords of 2014. And those who determinedly stick with passwords that have personal significance will find that after coming up with something that fits the bill – eight digits or longer and a combination of letters, numbers and symbols – their password might not be quite as friendly as they thought it would be.

Creating a password is only half the problem – the other half is remembering it. I came across an article online, ‘6 tips for creating an unbreakable password that you can remember’. One that appealed to me, at both a personal and practical level, was using a line from your favorite song, taking the first letter from each word to form your password, and replacing some of the letters with numbers.

This still might leave people a little stumped – how many song lines can you remember if you follow the rule of having a unique password for every website?

There’s got to be a better way – or at least it’s coming. A 2014 article on CNBC noted that companies are starting to experiment with password replacements, including facial recognition and other biometric features such as a person’s fingerprint, voice, or behavioral patterns. Many of these techniques have been around for a while, and some have been implemented on some devices, but not on any widespread scale.

Cliff Richard once sang of rock ‘n’ roll, “They say it’s gonna die but honey, please let’s face it. They just don’t know what’s going to replace it.” The same could be said of the humble password. At least we still have rock ‘n’ roll.

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