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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014
A Calmer You: change your password. Right now!
Sonal Kalra, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, October 19, 2013
First Published: 15:26 IST(19/10/2013)
Last Updated: 15:47 IST(19/10/2013)
Sonal Kalra gives you tips to calm down in her weekly column 'A Calmer You.'

Errr... may I please keep it as password123? Just this one time?


“Ma’am, please try to remember,” said the IT guy, adjusting his nerdy glasses. He looked as frustrated as the class teacher of a child who, despite being paid special attention through the year, has failed yet again in the exam. I stared back at him, not knowing what to say. ‘Ek baar try the same with the first letter uppercase,’ I mumbled. He keyed it in, shook his head, and looked around hopelessly.  ‘You had only asked me to keep changing the password,’ I chided.

“Yes, because it’s good for security. But, I had also asked you to ‘remember’ the new password,” he snapped back. A colleague, who has recently joined and was clearly unaware of the extent of my hopelessness when it comes to such things, intervened: ‘Why don’t you use the ‘forgotten password’ option?’ The IT geek growled back with the pent up frustration of not getting enough sleep all through his four years in the engineering college, “That is what we are trying. She does NOT remember the answer to
the forgotten password question!” The colleague looked at me incredulously, the IT guy hopelessly, while I stared at the computer screen, shamelessly. ‘You see, the answer to the forgotten password question is supposed to be the name of my pet. Now, I had pets of various breeds and kinds in different periods of my life. Then there was the neighbourhood cat that was technically not my pet but I had kinda adopted her, and named her. She used to come for milk every evening,’ I started and the emotionless descendant of Bill Gates hastily got up. “ma’am, I’m going. Had this been our internal server, I would have retrieved the password. Please talk to customer care.” The colleague fled too. And I was left with the screen that said, “Sorry, the user id/password is wrong”. ‘At least tell me which one of the two is wrong,’ I wanted to cry out. But, what’s the point? This is all done for ‘security’. Well, I am secure. So secure that even I can’t access my account anymore. And so, so sick of passwords. I know by now you think I’ve lost it, but please meri baat suno. I’m sure there are at least some people reading this who have the same disorder of not being able to remember passwords. And our suffering is compounded a thousand times by the so called ‘security regulations’. Now sample this:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2013/10/sonal_oct20.jpg1. The password can’t be too simple. It can’t be too short. It can’t be too similar to the user id. It can’t be too similar to the old password. It can’t be just letters of the alphabet. Basically as rightly put by some victim of this security torture, your password must be combination of  ‘at least 11 upper-lowercase letters, a numeral, a special character, lyrics of a Himesh Reshammiya song, the first letter of the surname of your maid, the tail of a lizard, a zero to signify your loser status and the blood of a virgin.’ Phew! I sometimes wonder if I’d secretly prefer my account getting hacked.

2.  In order to let the IT guys sleep peacefully at night and catch up for all the rest lost while formulating policies, the password needs to be changed often, sometimes as often as some people I know take bath. Kya yaar, at least let me be the one to decide if I want to change it. What if I’m secretly in love with my password and never want to change it? Don’t stop me from accessing my bloody account. There are anyway hardly any secrets in there. Heck, if I could remember secrets, I would remember passwords.

3. The passwords need to be different for different accounts and services. Fair enough. But this leaves me with the requirement of two dozen freakin’ passwords, all conforming to the above regulations. Clearing job interviews has been easier. Thinking of complicated passwords is, well, complicated.

4. Some people (read I) are so, well, innocent, that they don’t know the answers to the trick questions to retrieve forgotten passwords. What if I don’t have a favourite movie? What if I didn’t have a pet? What if I don’t know my mother’s maiden name? What if my mother never married? I’m getting into a depression here, do you see? To make matters worse, the retrieved password is sent to the email. And what is needed to access that? You got it! ‘A combination of 11 letters, a numeral, special character, blah, blah and blah’. 

5. Because it is important to ensure that it is a human being and not a metal-hearted robot trying to retrieve the password, I am also expected to read a passcode phrase and type it back, as it is. Except that some sadist who hated humankind devised the most illegible font for that phrase. Not only do I have to tilt my head to unimaginable degrees to read it, every effort has been made to ensure that the letters look so grainy that your eyesight goes for a toss in trying to tell a ‘o’ from a ‘e’. Check this out. Ha ha.

6. Some genius in a business suit also once warned me that I should never, ever write my password anywhere. Because that’s the easiest way for it to get stolen. Toh phir suno, tie waale bhai, that if I die, no loved one will be able to get access to the wealth I have generated all these years. In fact, I myself will not be able to use my own wealth soon, because my bank has recently written to me congratulating  me, and themselves, for having completely shifted to e-banking. No cutting of trees any longer to make cheque books and print statements. Now everything will be electronic. With ‘three tier robust security ensured by encryption and several password layers’. I fainted.

Sonal Kalra swears she can listen her computer going ‘bwaaaahaaa’ every time she enters a password. Which psychiatrist will take up her case? Will she need a password to pay? Mail her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/sonalkalra13.

Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/sonalkalra.


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