When I was a graduate student at Caltech, my computer password was “password”. In those days, I had so many things to remember that something more complicated was simply out of the question. I rationalized that there were lots of very smart people running around who could easily hack my account if they wanted. When the System Administrator finally pressured me into choosing something less obvious, I posted it on my monitor with a sticky note. A password I couldn’t remember was worse than “password”, I reasoned. The SA wasn’t pleased.
What made me think of all this was a recent report in Network World listing the top 10 corporate passwords. Number 1 is “Password1”, followed by “password” in third place, and “Password123” at number 7. I feel better now.
As Richard Feynman discovered while learning to crack safes at the Los Alamos Atomic Bomb Laboratory, people tend to either write down their password, or choose something obvious. Not only is it human nature to try and simplify the number of things we need to keep track of, it is also a huge PITA to try and recover from a forgotten password.
I’m convinced that this password anxiety is another sign of the times; a problem that will remain until retina scanners or fingerprint recognition become commonplace. I haven’t a clue what my first password was, but my first phone number, at the house I grew up in, was Sycamore 4-3969. The prefix, and the lack of an area code, should give you some idea of how long ago that was.