Our lives have become totally dependent on computers and electronic technology. In the world of financial markets complex algorithms rule, and our private lives increasingly are governed by a jumble of numbers and passwords.

Personal identification numbers (PIN’s) give us access to our ATM accounts, our bank account information, and all manner of other private financial data. Forget your PIN, no cash from the machine. Forget the password to your wireless router, no internet access.

Home security systems rely on keyed in numbers and mother’s maiden names. Forget, or mis-key the number sequence on the security system key pad and a squad car will be on its way, siren wailing.

Office security is restricted by all kinds of number and letter combinations. Even using a credit card requires more than the credit card number…you need to supply the secret three-digit security code number on the back of the card.

Pre-computer and electronic gadgetry, life was so much simpler. We had far fewer numbers to memorize... home phone number, social security number, combination to your bike lock and your locker at the health club. But, three or four number sequences were all you needed to get through the day.

The enhanced productivity and convenience ushered in by the Information Age have come at a steep price… enormous tests of our recall of security numbers and a wide variety of passwords. At home and in the office, passwords govern our lives.

The use of computer passwords, which may or may not be case sensitive, is further complicated by systems that automatically force the adoption of a new and totally different password every 90 days for enhanced security. Just when you've mastered the original password, you have to design AND REMEMBER a new one.

How many times has your computer responded to your user name and pass word entry with the red flag “FORGOTTEN YOUR PASSWORD?” It’s an insulting auto-response to which I am always tempted to reply, “Yes, I have momentarily forgotten, or mistyped my password, but that is hardly surprising since I have to remember 20 or so to navigate my way through an ordinary day.”

It would be so much easier to have one master password to use for all computers, financial data and security systems. However, computer security experts advise against the use of one password, cautioning "easy to remember is easy to hack". Hence the paradox of computer security: "impossible to remember is impossible to hack".

So, for enhanced cyber-security, we’re stuck with a world in which dozens of different passwords and security codes jumble around in our heads. When our recall capacity is maxed out, I suppose we’ll end up carrying around a ten page log with all the codes and passwords keyed to each different account.

All those different numbers and passwords likely will be impossible for a hacker to penetrate. But when we misplace the security code log (along with that backup pair of reading glasses), the real trouble begins… no ATM cash, no wi-fi access, and so on. Cyber-life as we have come to know it, grinding to a halt for want of a simple password.

August 15, 2012 Gerald D. Skoning

Gerald D. Skoning
131 S. Dearborn
Chicago, Ill.
[email protected]