17Oct

AND THE PASSWORD IS…

When I was a kid Password was a TV game show hosted by Alan Ludden, also known as Betty White’s less amusing half. Like most of the great game shows of its era, it featured the opportunity to see just how smart, funny and personable some of your favorite celebrities were in real life – people like Elizabeth Montgomery, Jack Klugman, Tony Randall, Paul Lynde, and Betty White herself. And of course, Orson Bean.

I even had the home version of the Password game, and it was pretty fun. The object of the TV and home versions was to give clues to your partner and help them guess single-word “passwords.”

Watching and playing this game was really the only time the concept of having or guessing a password came into my life, with the possible exception of the occasional WW2 spy movie and a few episodes of Get Smart.

But these days, everyone is keeping a million passwords. And a lot of “bad guys” are trying to guess them. Right now I have passwords for my ATM card, my online banking, my XM/Sirius ID, my car lease payments, a media buying website, Google and YouTube (I think these are the same, but I’m not sure), multiple Twitter accounts, a couple stock photo web sites, Comcast, Pinterest, my home WiFi, my medical records website, Facebook, ebay, and probably a bunch more that I can’t remember right now.

If you know me, if you grew up with me, you could probably guess a bunch of these. Because, let’s face it, most of us are not very creative when creating our passwords. There’s a fun game we’ve all played called “What’s my porn star name?” To identify this, you combine the name of your first dog with the name of a street you grew up on. I’m not going to tell you my porn star name. Because, like me, I’d probably be giving away at least a part of some of my passwords. And you would be too, right? Don’t shake your head at me -- I know. Your porn star name is giving you access to your bank account.

We pick these familiar words and use them as passwords because we can, at least in theory, remember them. When we were kids, we had to remember a few numbers. There was your phone number. A few friends’ phone numbers. And a locker combination. That was it. To this day, I can still remember 4 or 5 of my friends’ phone numbers.

These days, I don’t have to remember any of my friends and relations’ phone numbers. My phone does that. But I still have to try to remember all these passwords, and it’s just too much. The human brain was not made to remember all this stuff. So we make passwords as easy to remember as possible. And bad guys love this!

Every day there are stories about password leaks. For example, just today a headline reads “Hundreds of Dropbox passwords leaked online, but Dropbox denies it was hacked.”

The article goes on to repeat a message from the bad guys. Please read it in your best Dr. Evil accent: Here is another batch of Hacked Dropbox accounts from the massive hack of 7,000,000 accounts
. To see plenty more, just search on [redacted] for the term Dropbox hack. More to come, keep showing your support.

So yes, the forces of evil are out there, with their own (redacted) web sites. The good news is that there are some things you can do. There are products you can use, like the Google Chrome extension, LastPass. This acts as a password manager. According to its marketers, it “gives you safe and secure access to your information from all of your devices. With LastPass the only password you’ll ever have to remember again is the one for your LastPass account.” Sounds pretty good. If it really works.

But here’s another idea. I call it, abandoning your porn star name. I recognize it’s not easy coming up with passwords that don’t use some combination of past pets and addresses. But isn’t it worth giving it a try? If we don’t at least try, the terrorists win. Here are some potential sources for passwords that the bad guys may not have thought of.

  1. Go deeper into your past. This may require some level of hypnosis, but what was your favorite toy when you were a baby? A particular stuffed animal. A ball of string? A dust bunny? Did it have a name?
  2. Delve into your psyche. And then use it. Did you have a recurring dream as a child? My friend was terrorized in his dreams by Mr. Clean. I dreamed that my mom’s Ford Falcon would drive away with me in it. Take the things that you are afraid of and use them to your advantage. Misterclean666?
  3. What was your favorite lunchbox dessert? Fudgetown cookies? Yodels? My password would be idealpeanutbutterbars16 (the number I would eat at one sitting).
  4. Who was your favorite comic book villain? I say good luck to the hackers trying to remember Mr. Mxyzptlk.
  5. Instead of coming up with a porn star name, how about something more wholesome? Combine your second grade teacher with your fourth grade school. It’s your teacher name! Mine is Goddard Swanson. Very wholesome.
  6. Use your ancestors. Sorry, you may have to go to ancestry.com for this one. But what was your great grandmother’s full maiden name? Preferably in some non-English language like Russian or Chinese.
  7. Combine two of your favorite celebrity guests on Password. Like charlesnelsonbean. See what we’re doing here? Using Password to create a password!
  8. Make up a word. Right now. Like Bloofenhat. Then pretend that your first pet’s name was Bloofenhat. There you go – you can still use a pet name, albeit a made-up one. Use that, or any of these other ideas, and you’ll be well on your way to winning the game of Password, 2014 style.