What Is a Password?

I type in my computer password fifty times a day. I use LastPass, and have a different, randomly generated complex password for each service I use, but for just getting into my computer. I have to type a password. The screen locks after a few minutes of idle time, and if I want to do something on the computer, I have to type in the password again. I tried counting how many times I did this in a day, and lost count after thirty.

Passwords are to our computers and services what keys are to houses and cars. My grandfather used to talk about never locking the house, and keeping the car key in the ignition because that’s where it belonged. The password equivalent is  taping your password to your monitor so you don’t forget it.

When we had to remember just one password, things weren’t too bad. Now it’s gotten ridiculous. We have to avoid using dictionary words. And of course, you can never use something easy to remember like a birthdate or anniversary. On top of that, we now have to use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, include some numbers, and even a few punctuation marks. A good password is also at least 15 characters long. It leads to something that looks like this: Th1sIsMyP@$$w0rd.

That’s pretty hard to remember, but if we really want to be secure, we are supposed to choose a different complex password for every service we have. I have enough trouble remember just the one. I use LastPass out of sheer desperation.

On my iPhone and iPad, I can now use a fingerprint in place of a password to get past the lock screen. Several apps now support “touch” authentication. I no longer need a password. This is very science-fictiony. And I like it. It isn’t perfect. But it is better than a password.

My MacBook Air can’t take a fingerprint yet. But I hope that someday, all these devices can take a fingerprint. It makes things much easier. It would nice if even my house and car would take a fingerprint, although I’m not sure how well that would work if the power went out. I suppose I’d have to keep a spare key in the fake rock under the bush by the front door for emergencies.

Our kids’ know what a password is because they use our iPads and need the code to get past the lock screen. They brag about knowing what our passwords are. But I can imagine a time when, perhaps, their kids will hear their parents talking about the old days when they had to type in passwords.

“What is a password?” the kids will ask, just like our kids asked, “What is a CD?”

“It’s like a key,” my son will tell his children.

And his children will look up at him with their young, adoring, fresh faces, and reply, “Well, what is a key, daddy?”

One comment

  1. I’ve started using password padding as described in the below password haystack article by Steve Gibson. It makes passwords stronger, easier to remember, and easier to enter on a mobile device too! I also use LastPass, but for those “master” passwords, or the ones you can’t use LastPass for (ie. computer login), password padding seems to be a great solution.



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