Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003 / 7 Shevat, 5763

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Password, please! | Going through my Rolodex, I realized I now have as many cards with computer passwords on them as cards with names and phone numbers. Help. I'm in PIN purgatory and can't remember the password out.

In addition to an e-mail password, a back-up e-mail account name and password, a Web hosting password, a Web domain password, and a telephone voice-mail password, I have five different passwords for five different book sites I order from. I have a password for reserving library books on-line, a password for checking the bank account, passwords verifying for credit card balances, two passwords for travel sites and passwords for the stores where I order office supplies on-line.

You can't use the same password for all your on-line business. If a hacker got my Best Buy password and it was the same password for every other shopping site I visit, he'd not only know what ink cartridge I last ordered, but what size sweatshirt I wear at Land's End and how many holiday gifts I ordered from the Popcorn Some things were meant to be private.

You're never supposed to write a password down, but I simply had to. There were too many passwords to remember. Naturally, since I wrote them down, I was obligated to hide them. Some days I can't remember where I hid the Rolodex with the passwords that I can't remember.

We also have on-line passwords for the kids' college applications, scholarship applications and student loan applications. Many sites often require students and parents keep separate accounts and separate passwords. College students may be younger and have better reflexes than their parents, but most of the time they're no better at remembering computer passwords, which is why I wrote theirs down, too. Hid them, too. And I fully expect to find them again one day soon.

There are rules for creating passwords. You should never use a family name or pet name; although a poll of 1,200 office workers in Great Britain found that about half of all computer users do. The same poll found a second group used names of sports stars, cartoon characters and pop stars for their login. A third group chose self-descriptions like "sexy", "stud", "slapper" and "goddess." The smallest - and brightest - group were the "cryptics," who selected passwords that mix lower and upper case letters, numbers and punctuation. Often these people rely on mnemonics to create passwords like "mcawwts" - my children are wonderful when they're sleeping.

I have spent considerable time creating cryptic account names and passwords only to receive a message that they were already in use. Recently, I signed up for a free e-newlsetter from a huge lawn and garden company and entered the most unimaginative account and password name I could think of. Garden. It was accepted immediately.

Last fall, Brian McWilliams, a journalist who writes about the Internet, guessed Saddam Hussein's e-mail password on the first try. McWilliams wondered if Saddam was dumb enough to use the name in his e-mail address for his account name and password. He was.

Saddam's e-mail account was full. It contained several offers from American companies offering to sell military technology, assorted invitations to go to hell and numerous requests for autographs and 8x10 glossies. Surprisingly, there wasn't a single e-mail about reducing debt with a low-interest loan, a solicitation to meet hot, hot babes or a primer on how to reconnect with old friends from high school.

Someone should tell Saddam it is a good idea to change his password every three to six months. He should try something different next time, something challenging so Americans can't hack in.

I'm thinking garden would be good.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman