Password Protected


You may not have noticed it, but we live in a world that has effectively become a high-tech prison. Yes, it’s true, and no, I’m not being paranoid. It seems to me that we live in a fascist regime where our liberty is being restricted from every conceivable angle. That liberty is not being restricted by the police, the secret service or by Big Brother, mind you, but by legions of computer nerds who’ve fixed it so that pretty much every little thing we do requires the submission of a code, password or pin number. No, don’t laugh, it’s the gospel truth. We’re being hemmed in on every side by the need to submit intricate combinations of letters and numbers before we’re allowed to do even the most mundane tasks. I tell you, without a trace of melodrama, that our very freedom is under threat.

Let me demonstrate to you how passwords, codes, and pin numbers have become an inescapable part of our lives.

There was a time when I would breeze into my office every morning full of “git up and go”. But now, before I can breeze through the doors, I must enter my secret five-digit code on a keypad, designed to keep out evildoers who would want to break into my office and… do my work for me?

Having entered my office, I go straight to my desk, but instead of immediately getting down to work on the computer, I must first enter a username and password before I can have access to my work.

I’m told by my IT Officer (read: computer geek) at work that the password for my computer must have at least eight characters, of which at least one must be capitalized, one must be a number and another should be a symbol of some kind. I don’t know about you but attempting to sit down and dream up such a concoction is physically painful. And the idea that I should then memorise said invention is laughable. I have neither the time nor the brainpower.

I suppose all of this is in an effort to make sure my password can’t easily be discovered by hackers, identity thieves and the like. But as far as I’m concerned, if there’s some pimply-faced teenager out there with enough brains to hack into my computer without help, then I say we should hire him, because clearly the lad is a genius. We should put him to work in a cubicle right beside the guy who broke into my office to do my work for me.

If all this weren’t bad enough, I’m advised (by the aforementioned IT Nazi) that I must change my password every three months. And it’s not enough to just change a letter or two of said password; I must strain my already limited creative abilities to craft a completely new password. Having created that new password I must remove all traces of the old password from my memory, (lest I confuse it with the new password) and finally, of course, I must attempt to commit the new password to my already beleaguered memory.

I’m credibly informed that my computer has something like 2 Gigabytes of memory. But I’m convinced that I would need 2 Gigabytes of memory myself, just to remember all the passwords, codes and pin numbers I’m told I should have. Mind you, if I had 2 Gigabytes of memory I wouldn’t need a damn computer in the first place.

To make the process of creating and memorizing passwords a little easier I’ve tried to come up with memorable passwords that are easy to learn by heart. So my last password was Cubanlightbulb$, which I’ve now replaced with Manatt=$x2. But even if I come up with memorable passwords, God forbid that I should ever come into the office one morning feeling distracted, tired or (lets be honest) hung-over, and consequently in no position to remember a password. An incorrect password will be instantly rejected like a bad pick up line and a flashing box on the screen will sternly advise me that I have two more tries before the computer locks itself, the police are called in, and I’m carted off to prison like a common criminal - all for having the gall, nay, the sheer impudence, to have entered the wrong password in my computer.

This drama is repeated again and again throughout the day as I check my e-mail accounts and visit Twitter, Youtube and Facebook (all for work-related purposes of course). All of these sites become impregnable fortresses if you don’t supply the correct username and password. Like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings their default setting is: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

Having booted up and read my e-mail, I often have to make calls to clients and associates not located on the building. This, however, requires that I enter a password on my office phone. This, I suppose, is to prevent unauthorized persons (like the guy who broke in to do my work) from using the phone to make long-distance calls, order pizza or make terrorist threats?

If I decide to leave the office for lunch, I’ll usually stop at the ATM machine for some cash. But first I must pay the toll. You guessed it, I must supply a pin number. Having supplied the pin number, and the machine having been gracious enough to give me some of my own money, I sally forth to do some errands. If any of those errands involve a visit to a government department, however, I must make sure I have yet another random combination of numbers ready – my Taxpayer Registration Number. Luckily this number is conveniently printed on my driver’s license. (Lucky until the day I lost my driver’s license, that is)

As I drive around town I often call friends from my cell phone. My phone, however, automatically locks itself when it’s left alone for more than 5 minutes and, of course, I must supply a password to reopen it. I once managed to forget said password and, having entered 5 wrong versions of the password, my phone locked itself and refused to acknowledge my existence. I was then forced to ransack my entire house to find a little piece of paper which held the pin code needed turn it back on.

What I find most striking about all of this is the attitude people take when you say you have trouble remembering all these passwords. They seem to assume that you’re either a moron or a slacker. For example, I once made the mistake of saying to a group of friends at a cocktail party that I carried the pin number for my bank account on a piece of paper in my wallet. Everyone froze, there was a stunned silence, and I think someone actually gasped. “Well, how else am I supposed to remember it?” I recall muttering defensively.

I estimate that I carry around maybe fifteen or so codes, passwords and pin numbers in my head. As a result, I occasionally mix them up, and even though I’ve been warned not to do so, I use the same password for more than one purpose. As a result, any rascal clever enough to figure out my password will have hit the jackpot. He’ll immediately have access to the $26.50 in my checking account, the pictures of my dog Snookie on my laptop and the 3,675 junk e-mails in my Hotmail account. I hope he’s happy.

Let’s be honest folks, as much I understand the desire to protect vital information and the like, are the things we’re protecting really all that important? When did we become so paranoid that we decided all the useless minutiae of our daily lives must be guarded with unbreakable codes? It makes me wonder if, by going to so much effort to protect those things, that we don’t make them all the more enticing for hackers to try to steal, if only for the challenge of doing it? And of course, the more hackers succeed in breaking into things, the more we try to protect them with passwords. The more we try to protect things with passwords, the more the hackers... you get the idea. It’s a slippery slope. I predict a day, not long from now, when you’ll need a password to use your toaster, a code to open your fridge and a pin number just to lift your toilet seat.

The irony of all of this is that all the marvelous high-tech power of my computer is inaccessible without the passwords stored in that old-fashioned, low-tech machine called my brain. Isn’t it better to use the limited space in that brain to remember more important things? Like the need to check every other week or so for new articles? Or the need to look over your shoulder occasionally while you’re reading this to make sure your boss isn’t watching? Or, even more importantly, the need to forward the link to this article to your friends and family after you've finished reading it? You know, really critical, potentially life-altering information like that?