Maybe Sherlock Can Solve the Password Dilemma

By | November 3, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Security is a wonderful thing, but the constant need for passwords and elaborate screening has become maddening.  Last night was a great example.  I had several tasks to accomplish with my wireless carrier and another vendor.  As I always do, I tried to manage the transaction online, only to be told that my user name and password were incorrect.  I checked my password keeper to confirm I had it right (I did), after needing to remember the password to the device, and then the password to the password keeper.  But I didn't want to waste any more time so I called the carrier.

The person I spoke with asked me for my password.  I gave it to him and he told me it needed to be more digits than it was.  But he said he could fix that for me once he confirmed that I truly was who I said I was.  That took some additional time, a phone call to my wireless device, and several more questions so he could confirm I was not trying to add extra services to someone else's wireless device.

Once I ran that gauntlet for about 20 minutes, he told me he had to transfer me to another department to handle the reason I had called about in the first place.  And, of course, that young woman made me go through the same proof of identity checks as before.  A task that probably should have taken 10 minutes online, or on the telephone, ended up taking 30.

Since passwords have been the bane of my existence for many years, I enjoyed reading a funny article yesterday on the site from a fellow sufferer.  Author Jennifer Brown summed it up perfectly:

"I don’t know about you, but I am passworded and PINned out.  It seems you can’t do anything these days without “registering,” “logging in” or “signing up.”  Can’t buy groceries without a special card.  Can’t choose a pair of socks without consulting a website.  Can’t use a coupon without a special code from an e-newsletter subscription.  Bah!  Enough!

I can’t remember my kids’ shoe sizes, yet I’m supposed to recall a four-to-19-digit PIN to check their lunch money accounts every day.  Um, yeah.  The pizza box that I wrote that number down on disappeared three years ago."

Sometimes I feel like the bank manager in the first reel of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" whose secretaries roll their eyes at his need to constantly unlock a drawer to get the combination for the safe, because he can never remember it.  If that 60's era man was working today, he'd have dozens of password combinations to remember.  He'd need a safe just for his passwords.

I know there are password managers and single-sign-on technologies and biometric approaches to securing identity, but I'm sure our excellent systems team has checked them all and come to the conclusion that they don't fully solve the problem or are exorbitantly expensive or difficult to manage.

So we continue to struggle with not only creating and remembering passwords and answers to secret questions, but also the requirement to change them regularly to meet security standards.  PBS currently is running an excellent series that places the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the present day.  He uses all sorts of technologies, which one would expect.  As he is puzzling the latest mystery, the production shows words and letters and symbols briefly floating in the air near him on occasion.  He is working things out mentally.  As I watched the second episode this past Sunday, I decided that's the answer to the password problem.  We need to use our unique thought pattern to unlock sites and make transactions.  A Jedi Knight sort of approach that can't be duplicated.

When the trial of that particular security scheme is unveiled, please be sure to sign me up.

Lois Paul (367 Posts)

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