Are a lot of people totally frustrated with the necessity and operation of electronic device passwords? Could it just be me, or more likely a function of my age?
I hate passwords. I used to dislike them, but it has gone well beyond that stage now. It is a passionate hatred.
Today, you need a user name and unique password to operate virtually every gizmo that is closely related to what used to be known as a computer.
If that is not enough, you are under constantly increasing pressure to create ever-more complex passwords that you could never possibly remember.
I laugh and cuss when I recall my first college experience with computer operation over 45 years ago. The gigantic IBM System 360 covered probably one half acre, 10 feet high, of environmentally-controlled space. Back in the technological “dark ages,” we wrote mathematical programs on a series of “IBM cards,” only one command per card. You had to create each card on a keypunch machine, and arranged them in a pre-ordained sequence with identification cards unique to the department or course you were taking.
This was your password. Once you felt your program was written correctly, and every card was placed in the proper sequence, you delivered the stack to the computer center where technicians would enter the programs into the massive computer.
If correctly written and arranged, and with no language or mathematical errors, your program would produce an “output.” If not, you would receive an “error message.”
You could expect that your program’s output (or error message) would be available for pickup in 12 to 24 hours. All that time you were hoping and praying that everything was correct in your submission. If not, you would be given back your cards with a couple of sheets of bad news — your program did not run and you would probably miss the class deadline.
At that time, nobody could conceive of computers in their modern state. To use the system you first had to be relatively fluent in a specific computer language. I was taught “Fortran” which was (is) a scientific language used primarily for mathematical calculations. There were other languages used in business and other applications which I knew nothing about.
Bill Gates changed all that years later with the use of little pictures he called “icons.” Since then, my respect for computers has never been the same.
About two years after I began using the computer, a breakthrough in technology occurred as the university placed keyboard terminals at various locations on campus.
From a terminal you could login to the main computer, compose and run a program, and receive your output. No punch cards or delivery and pickup of your program! No nail-biting hours, waiting to see if your program had even run! You now knew that before you left the terminal.
This is where I was first introduced to the concept of a password. These were specific to your class and the same word was issued to each student to gain access to the computer via a remote terminal. The purpose was not for security, but to keep non-authorized students from using the system. You kept the password in your wallet or textbook, since the concept of memorization had not yet evolved.
Back then, I could never have conceived that one day I would carry a computer that would be many thousands (millions?) of times as powerful as that half-acre giant, and it would resemble a plastic pop-tart. But I also would never have believed that my greatest objection to it would be the password.
I try very hard to minimize password use. No matter the program or application, if a password is optional, I will not set it up. I have nothing to hide or hoard, because I still firmly resist using the machine for financial transactions.
The password that I first started using (when I absolutely had to) was a unique compound word that I borrowed from the “Beavis and Butthead” series. It worked very well, was relatively unique, and was something that I could easily remember; until the latest tyranny of the password czars.
Try as I may, I still cannot become accustomed to creating a password that includes an upper-case letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.
Yes, I know the Internet is a dangerous place and there are bad people out there who want my stuff. There have always been thieves. The difference as it appears to me is that, only recently, we have been content to store all our stuff at a location that is accessible to everyone.
I would like to choose my own password and if I get hacked, let it be my own fault — but not because you made me have to write the damn password down just to reproduce it.
I’m probably wrong, being a dinosaur, but it seems that if passwords must be so complex that everybody has to write them down; that should be a much bigger security flaw that picking your own simpler word.
People “in the know” tell me that they use password “apps” to create highly complex, unbreakable, passwords. Whenever I hear this, I recall the undecipherable Enigma machine used by Hitler in World War II.
Others tell me they keep all their passwords on a spreadsheet in their home or office computer. Pardon my ignorance, but this would seem to create a single point of risk, or a situation where finding one password would get you all of them.
So I will beat on, a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
I know nothing about, and cannot use an ATM machine, Internet banking, or online bill-paying. But as long as there are personal checks, a Post Office, bank tellers, and other humans with whom I can have phone or personal conversations for transactions, I may be able to live out the rest of my days.
Jim Surber is the Darke County engineer, a graduate of Whiteoak High School, The Ohio State University, and a columnist for The Highland County Press.