In this scary world of surveillance, hacking and identity theft, there are a few things you can count on.
1. You can’t use the same password for different applications, because that’s like having the same key for all the drawers in your desk — oh wait.
2. Each password has to be long and include upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols so your password looks like you’re swearing, which you probably are.
3. No words, names, birthdays, parts of your Social Security number, addresses or any other strings of characters you’re likely to remember.
4. You should be changing all your passwords every 20 minutes, because no matter how good they are, they won’t be for long.
5. YOU CAN’T WRITE THEM DOWN. ANYWHERE. EVER. No cheating, and no hints.
6. Yours are all pitiful, you have the same one for Netflix and online banking, it’s the name of your dog, and the one on your email account is PASSWORD123. Shameful.
I don’t know about you — though I could, now that I’ve guessed your passwords — but I’m very rapidly reaching password exhaustion. There is only so much storage capacity in my brain, and whole sections that used to be allocated to remembering what to do in an earthquake, the capitals of Midwestern states and large swaths of third grade are now being filled with l(ith8pt%gIuhrPxe and similar.
(That is NOT an actual password of mine, of course. It belongs to an ex-boyfriend.)
Passwords you use every day are less of a problem. Once you’ve learned them, they’re reinforced so many times you’re unlikely to forget, which is why one of the most attractive passwords is one your university or employer assigned you. It’s random and has no trace of your personal data in it, but it’s burned into your brain.
I used to use a couple of those for almost everything, until my email got hacked repeatedly and I had to change all my passwords. I’m MUCH safer now, though I spend most of my day struggling to remember passwords.
The problem isn’t coming up with really good new passwords. The problem is remembering them without writing them down anywhere. All the security experts always used to tell us not to write down our passwords and stick them to the computer with a Post-It or carry them in a wallet. I get that — I really do. But honestly, I’m not totally clear on why I can’t write them down on a piece of paper — maybe one I was using to do math or take notes on while doing my taxes, thereby giving it an air of trivial unreliability — and squirrel it away in the bottom of a junk drawer or behind the cat’s litter box, where angels fear to tread.
Because consider these statistics: Times my password-protected online accounts have been hacked: at least 3. Times my home has been broken into and junk drawer rifled: 0.
I did hear of a cool password trick. Take a dollar bill from your wallet. It has on it a unique 10-digit serial number with letters. If you use that as a password, making one of the letters lowercase, according to howsecureismypassword.net it would take a desktop PC six years to crack it. Add an exclamation point at the end and it would take 4,000 years. You don’t have to memorize it (except which letter is lowercase and the exclamation point) because if you carry a dollar bill in a separate compartment of your wallet or hide it in a drawer of your desk and someone finds it, it’s just an ordinary dollar bill.
Or you can do what I do and use a password-management app. It’s handy; I’ve put all my passwords in it, and it’s encrypted and secure.
Now if I could just remember the master password to get into it. …
Samantha Bennett, freelance writer: email@example.com.