Easing the pain of passwords

PASSWORDS: pain in every pixel.

Hackers in the movies crack industrial-strength passwords in seconds. In real life it may take a minute. So is it worth remembering ‘r87%!@#’ just to order a pizza online, asks TERENCE KENNEDY? 

PASSWORD is no longer the world’s most popular password, but it’s close. This year’s winner is 123456. Followed by 12345678 and perhaps most curiously at number 11, login. 

Passwords really are a pain, and the bane of our technological age, as we stagger under growing torrents of the things. Even my new electric toothbrush has a password so that I can track my brushing performance, when what I actually need is a life.

And we really are so hopeless at choosing good passwords. Even the simplest computer these days can crack a six-letter password in seconds, putting your whole identity at risk if you’ve decided to go with hola or cheers because you can’t be buttocked to come up with something better.

If there’s anything we’re even worse at than thinking-up passwords, it’s remembering them. Sure, even Stephen Hawking probably couldn’t remember the eighty-something passwords I need to stay afloat online, for everything from managing my subscription to Barbed Wire Monthly right through to keeping Nigerian princes away from the 63 euros in my current account.

Offices are still replete with every IT administrator’s nightmare, Post-it stickers with a password – a situation made worse by the recently-discredited practice of changing passwords every month to the bafflement of pretty much everyone involved (I once performed assault and battery on a favourite computer mouse when last month’s password would no longer let me check this month’s bank balance, and to get a new password I had to enter, yes, the new password).

But now there are password managers, with a few of the most popular listed in the panel alongside. These promise to store all your passwords and apply them where needed, as long as you remember, inevitably, One Password To Rule Them All.

Of course you could also write down every password in a notebook as you collect them – and just hope your home isn’t burgled by a computer-literate Beagle Boy.

Or you could use your own down-home solution like mine: a text file of usernames and passwords, which is then compressed (‘zipped’) with any of the many widely-available zip programs (WinZip or 7-Zip are just two) – which let you encrypt (lock) the file with a password each time you save it. As with password managers, forget this master password and your cyberlife goes down the pan.

For my part, I’m thinking of changing my password to ‘incorrect’. That way, whenever I forget it the computer will always respond: ‘Your password is incorrect’. Perfect!

 Keep Calm and change your password

ONE of the world’s most popular password managers (LastPass) was recently hacked – but then these days, who hasn’t been? 

By and large though, you would expect password managers to safeguard the precious keys to your life, and they do.

Many are free: look for LastPass, Dashlane, LogMeOnce or Symantec Norton Identity Safe. Pay a few smackers and you can add more bells and whistles, like protection for multiple devices, automatic form filling and for all I know, the ability to brew a good cup of Earl Grey.

Whatever you do, don’t accept your web browser’s kind offer to Save a password when you input it into a site. All it takes is for your computer to be stolen and there goes your life. Not to mention your electric toothbrush tracker.