Barren superfluity of (pass)words

As you may have guessed, I own a Dictionary of Quotations and I’m not afraid to use it.  Today’s title (mostly) comes to us from Sir Samuel Garth, one time physician to George I, from his mock-heroic poem The Dispensary.  I, like a clueless Mastermind contestant, provided the “pass”.

The modern, computer era requires a chap to keep track of a plethora of passwords – and, not just words but numbers and more complex ciphers as well.  Different organisations have different requirements – some insist on characters that are neither numbers nor letters whereas others won’t permit these at all (though don’t usually reveal this fact until after you have entered your choice: twice!).

Work is even worse, as I am forced to change my passwords on a regular basis.  As an ex-system manager, I recognise this as good practice – but as a user it is nothing but a pain.  The vacancy which overtakes my mind when required to come up with some new, secure password is matched only by that when presented with a leaving card in which to write something suitably pithy.   (And yes, I have thought of “orange” – but fear its use could lead to my early Sectioning.)

Often passwords are supposed to be linked to a particular concept: a memorable name or date, first or last school or that class of thing.  Given the relative ease of discovering information about a chap from the web, and the amount of data available to any cyber-criminal with sufficient time on their hands and a high enough boredom threshold to work their way through this blog, I feel that using birthdays, my mother’s maiden name or real educational history would be a less than secure choice.  As a result, I tend to use bare-faced lies when required to provide this data for security purposes (I do worry that this revelation may reduce this blog’s readership at a stroke, but I am willing to forego my massive cyber-criminal following).

Using fictitious data for passwords does provide significantly stronger security for my various on-line transactions.  However, for sites I use infrequently the security provided is so high that even I cannot gain access as I tend to forget which particular “lie” I found amusing at the time I established the relevant password.  I have never written down the necessary information as (a) this would weaken security and (b) because I think I have such a good memory that I will never forget the witty reasoning behind my choice.  Ah, hubris, my Nemesis!

Yesterday, in common with many across the land, I needed to send some money to the Inland Revenue (sadly, they do not yet accept buttons).  I do this only once every six months and so had (obviously) forgotten all the relevant passwords: either to make payment using my debit card or to set up a transfer from my bank account.  So, I was forced to fall back on human contact and ring my bank to try and reset my passwords and then make the payment.  As you might imagine, the prospect filled me with dread – but how wrong I was!

There was no tedious menu of options to work through, or the normal long wait in a queue whilst being told that my call is important (as I fume that it clearly isn’t or they’d have hired more people to answer the phone).  The phone was answered almost instantly by a very cheery and helpful chap who, I’d guess from his accent, hails from somewhere in northwest England.  The lad even laughed at my jokes – surely well beyond the call of duty on a Friday evening.  We swiftly managed to reset all my passwords and money was soon winging its way (on electronic wings) to HMRC.

So, I have decided to briefly cast aside the mantle of Victor Meldrew and embrace that of Pollyanna: though as the service was so good, I have no need of her ‘Glad Game’ philosophy.  So, GofaDM raises a salute (and a glass) to the fine folk of the Co-operative Bank, it seems their slogan of ‘good with money’ even extends to customer service!


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