Password Unprotected

Last week, my supervisor assigned me a new cell phone. She told me I would need to create a six digit pass code to secure it.

“Six digits,” I muttered to myself as I considered various combinations. Perhaps Marilyn Monroe’s measurements (35-22-35)? A postal code for Bangalore, India (560 012)? My junior high gym locker combination? (I can’t remember it now, just like I couldn’t remember it then, and consequently lost a perfectly good pair of Reeboks, probably to a maintenance man with a bolt cutter).

Later that day, I complained to my husband.


We’re going to stop being friends if you keep kicking my ass.

“Why six digits? What’s wrong with four digits?” I held up my personal cell phone, one that only requires me to remember four numbers in order to thwart nefarious evil-doers determined to uncover all my super–secrets, such as the fact that I win only 23% of my Yahtzee With Buddies games (boy, do I suck) and what’s on my Grocery Pal shopping list (cat food, shampoo, red fruit).


“Six digits are more secure,” my husband assured me. He held up his own cell phone, the iPhone 6, which requires one of these new-fangled six digit pass codes. “You really should upgrade. I don’t know how you manage with that thing.”

I considered “that thing,” my iPhone 5s. When I bought it, it featured some of the most advanced technology in the world, including TouchID, the fingerprint identification sensor that I never could get to work right. Now, three short years later, everyone treats my phone like it’s a hand-cranked Model T while they zip around in self-driving Teslas.

While I’m sure I’ll (eventually) enjoy zipping around in a self-driving Tesla, or at least its cellphone equivalent, right now my brain has just about reached maximum capacity for the pass codes and the passwords and the secret handshakes I have to keep track of here in the 21st century. I’m afraid all of that is beginning to push out other stuff I need in there, like, you know, the words I use to, um, talk.

For example, the other day on a trip to the supermarket, I quizzed my daughters on Spanish vocabulary as we strolled the produce aisle. My older daughter just finished her first year studying Spanish in middle school, and I’m determined that there will be absolutely no summer learning loss in this family. Yes, I’m one of those mothers, the ones who manage to torture their children even at el supermercado the grocery store.

“¿Qué es esto?” I asked, holding up a red fruit.


An apple (I think).

“Una manzana,” my older daughter said through clenched teeth.


I turned to my younger daughter, who’s still in elementary school, and not yet cynical about learning. “¿Y en inglés?”


I looked at the red fruit in my hand. Wait, was that right? ¿Cómo se dice “manzana” en inglés?

For a split second I could not remember, and while some people might start worrying about early onset Alzheimer’s, I choose instead to blame all the passwords careening around my brain, crowding out useful information.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ve got another story for you: last month, I needed to create an account on a US government website. The site required a 15 (Yes. FIFTEEN!) character password that had to  include one upper case letter, one lower case letter, one number, one special character, a semaphore flag signal, and a blood sample.

“I’m never going to remember this,” I said as I balled up my fist and pounded the keyboard until I finally got the message, “PASSWORD ACCEPTED!”

As expected, I cannot remember that fifteen character password, and I’ve had to reset the damn thing every time I’ve accessed the site.

In the midst of all these passwords swirling around my brain (35-22-35, 560102, H3LPM3OB1W@NK@N0B1), I found an article in Fortune magazine, describing a new technology that will allow banks to identify their customers by scanning eyeballs.

Everyone is familiar with the use of fingerprints to establish someone’s identity. Now, banks are doing the same with our eyes, but not in the way you might think. They don’t rely on a customer’s iris, but instead they focus on the pattern of blood vessels behind the whites of the eyes.

In practice, this involves customers opening an app and pointing a smartphone cameras at their faces. The bank’s app compares the eyes that appear in the camera image to one the customer has previously stored stored in the app. If they match, customers can check their bank balance, transfer money, and pay bills.

Here is my response to this new technology: GIVE IT TO ME NOW.


What’s the meaning of life? What’s for dinner? Two questions we could answer if only we didn’t have to deal with so many passwords.

Think of all the good we could accomplish in this world if we didn’t have to create and remember all these passwords. We could devote our intellectual energy toward world peace, or solving Goldbach’s conjecture, or maybe just figuring out what to make for dinner tonight. Do I really need to burn up anymore brain cells thinking up a password for  my Waste Management garbage bill? What are hackers going to do if they get in there anyway? Switch my service date from Mondays to Thursdays?


Of all the ridiculous passwords I’m forced to remember, I have to believe my kids’ school district reached the height of absurdity this past academic year when they decided to password “protect” electronic report cards. Previously, parents could access the reports by keying in their child’s student ID number, but now we have to key in the ID number and a password. That’s double protection the principal claimed in the email he sent out, though he didn’t elaborate on what we’re all being protected from. My husband, the son of a public school administrator, defended the decision in the interest of student privacy.

“The ID number didn’t provide enough privacy?” I asked, recalling our own struggle to access the report card after our daughter misplaced her student ID. We searched the house for three days to find it at the back of her bedroom closet, probably tossed there on the very day it had been issued in September. “If someone is going to all the trouble to find out the ID number, memorize it, and then go to the school district website and key it in just to see our kid got a ‘Good’ in Numbers and Operations, I say they’re welcome to that information.”

Anyway, screw all those passwords. I want the whole world to know how my older daughter did in Spanish this year.

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Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at The Yahtzee with Buddies logo comes from the Scopely website, and is believed to comply with the Fair Use doctrine.