Friday, January 23, 2009

Of Names and Passwords

There are so many interesting and useful places on the internet. There are online shopping sites and banking sites to pay your bills. There are blogs, discussion forums, online magazines, online newspapers, social networking sites, photo sites, writing sites, reading sites, school sites, you-name-it sites. Most of them are free. But there's often a catch. Before you can access the goodies on the site, you need to belong. They want you to become a member.

Now, I've never been much of a joiner and don't belong to any clubs; but for the sake of being able to read or use certain sites, I've become a member of various "communities".

That's where I have problems.

In order to become a member, you need to join, and in order to join, you need to sign in, and in order to sign in, you need to provide certain information. I don't mind the email info because I use a separate one for my internet browsing. I don't even mind providing a birth year because who's to know the difference (or truth) if I put in 1945 or 1985.

Where I begin having problems is when they ask for a user name. What, exactly, do they mean? Do they want your real name or a pseudonym? In some cases, it's easy to figure out – they provide a space for first and last names. Otherwise, anything goes as far as a pseudonym / screen name / user name. Over the years, I've come up with cutesy ones, serious, meaningful ones and ones using my real name. The latter got a bit ridiculous if, on signing up, Ellen was already in use. Then the site would suggest an alternative -- like Ellen1254b because, one would assume, someone else was already using Ellen1254a.

A few years ago, I decided to simplify things by using variations of my name and initials. Hence, ELL, ell, Ellee. This seems to be working pretty well. I've only had to addend it with a number once.

The next part of the sign-up process I have trouble with is the password. They always suggest using an alphanumeric password. Now, prior to my forays into cyberspace, I don't think I ever used the term alphanumeric nor did anyone around me use that term (although, if mentioned in conversation, I'm sure I'd have figured it out).

Okay, so they want a combination of letters and numbers. But what letters and numbers? They say it should be unique for their site. They say it shouldn't be something easily guessed. They say you should memorize it. They say you should NOT write it down anywhere. To complicate things, I've read that for security, passwords should be changed on a regular basis. After so many years and so many sites, I cannot keep that much information in my already stuffed and aging brain.

So what do I do? I write them down. On index cards. With my own coding system.

Now, in all fairness, most browsers try to help by asking if you want this information memorized on your computer. They ask if you want your user name or password "remembered". Sometimes, I say yes, sometimes no, depending on the site. At the back of my brain, I keep wondering if this is any more safe than my system of coded index cards.

And of course, there's the problem of using another computer -- say at an internet café -- which is what I did on our recent trip. Then, all those computer remembered names and passwords are useless.

Forgetting passwords must happen quite often because have you noticed there is always a little link under the password box that asks, "Forgot your password?" This usually leads to detailed and sometimes convoluted instructions about how to retrieve it or get a new one?

An online acquaintance suggested using one password for all sites (going against conventional wisdom). He suggested your mother's maiden name combined with the year you moved into your current home. Maybe I'll try that.


Anonymous said...

I hear and feel your pain, Ell!!! I get frustrated with that stuff, too. I feel sorry for someone who tries to figure out my passwords because they are in line with my quirky brain. Not too many people know the stuff I use for passwords -- like the nickname my kids gave me long ago or the one my sorority sisters used. Or the bar where I quaffed my first beer.

I just hate having to come up with them and that we have to jump through these hoops.

Some sites will never know that they lost a subscriber because they asked too many questions that I didn't want to answer. I like to keep things simple and my information doesn't need to be in too many data banks.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Ell! I haven't been around in quite a while, but was glad to happen along tonight. I have the same quandaries about usernames and passwords... What exactly did I call myself? And am I likely to remember "x64ynl892bbb"? No, I am not.

Hopefully, I'll be back more regularly from now on. Happy new year to you!

Anonymous said...

Kay, I've used all sorts of ways to make up passwords.

My main difficulty is remembering which password goes with which site and which username. Thus, my use of index cards (terrible for security, I know).

I like sites that ask a question that only you can answer. Much easier on the brain cells.

Imelda, glad you stopped by again. Happy new year to you, too. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a hilarious dilemma. glad you wrote about it. Macs have "stickies" and I keep lists of password and serial numbers for machines and/or appliances I buy.
But as you point out, when I'm out somewhere using another computer.....
hence I believe it was a dilemma deliberately created by silicone valley.