x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

What's my password? Er - pass …

In the age of computer technology, having a poor memory means forever having problems with passwords.

If you're anything like me, and arrange almost every aspect of your existence while staring at a screen almost exactly the same size as a computer monitor, then your life will revolve around an ever-growing series of instantly forgettable usernames, passwords and pincodes. Almost everything we now do online requires some sort of thorough security scanning, almost like a rub-down at airport security but without having to take your belt off.

Unfortunately, if your memory is as bad as mine, then the whole security situation becomes something of a nightmare. Not a day goes by, it seems, without me having to click that dreaded "Forgotten Password?" link and go through the series of web-based head shakes of disappointment that follow. There's at least one bank account I haven't checked in years, purely because it's got the dreaded "three strikes and you're out" password scheme and there are at least six different passwords it could be.

Back when the internet was but a troublesome infant, it was all relatively easy. For starters, we still all spoke to people, which was generally enough to prove who we were. And the passwords that were necessary could be user-friendly, memorable affairs not requiring that much grey matter to recall.

But then, as pretty much everything in existence got itself a web address and crooks started to do their dirty work without even having to don balaclavas, it all got rather thorny. First, we were told to make our passwords more complicated, perhaps with a digit flung in for good measure. But this wasn't enough. We were then encouraged to toss in a few punctuation marks to liven up the proceedings. Now, with the introduction of that smug coloured bar showing different shades for security, it seems the only way to be given the coveted red code for "secure" is to have a password that looks like a fight between an Icelandic volcano and the number Pi to 30 decimal places.

Obviously, the easiest solution would be to have the same username and password for everything, from your online bank to your account with the nearest pizza delivery company. But nothing is ever as easy as that. First, being someone who has accumulated numerous usernames and passwords over the years, it's necessary to figure out at which stage of heightened security fear the password was written in order to know how many umlauts or apostrophes it might feature. Second, just to make things more complicated, there are some online outfits out there who insist on its customers using names and passwords of particular, and rather short, lengths, meaning you've got to abridge your usual words to something that you'll inevitably forget.

The only way I can think of getting around all this would be for all usernames and passwords to be instantly uploaded to some online database where they could be instantly viewed whenever the need arose. Naturally, access to this extremely important information would have to remain exclusively with the user, with rather tight security checks to make sure nobody else was trying to get in. I imagine the password would have to be pretty darn complicated.