Passwords: An open secret
EMBEDDED somewhere in this column is my master password, a unique key offering universal access to all my bank account information, not to mention my Netflix queue, my MySpace page, my Blogger profile, my Visa, all my e-mail in-boxes, my office's network server, my avatar in my "Second Life" and the frequent-flier miles in my first life.
It's also the code word my wife and I tell each other at dinner parties when we're bored and want to go home.
Now, some people might say it's insane to put such sensitive information in the public domain. Or supercilious, perhaps? Or daft? Or cuckoo? Or CuCkOo_24_7? But hear me out.
I'm getting tired of losing passwords. I need to settle on one and put it where I know I can find it. The fact that everyone else can find it as well is a secondary concern, and a fact of life no matter where I put it.
If you don't believe me, look at the motion picture industry. It has more lawyers than Spider-Man has villains, yet it, too, is unable to keep a lid on its digital secret recipes.
Someone cracked open its "uncrackable" 16-digit HD-DVD code earlier this month, and now every other blogger has it wallpapered on his site in 64-point Times Roman. People have tattooed it to their chests. Someone put a song about it on YouTube called "Oh Nine, Eff Nine."
WHAT DOES this mean? Well, specifically, people with a pool of free time as infinite as space itself -- college students -- can now make endless copies of high-def DVDs and add them to the never-ending BitTorrent no-cash, no-problem conga line.
Generally, it means forget trying to overtly protect anything built on a foundation of ones and zeroes. When it comes to your digital life, take a queue from zombie movies: Just hide in a hole and try not to breathe.
The fact is, in the Digital Age, the only reason you don't know my Social Security number -- and the only reason I don't know yours -- is because neither of us has bothered to find out. We're too busy herding our own PINs, file reference locators and encryption keys like so many cats, and all that clunking around the information superhighway is bound to draw the wrong kind of attention eventually.
And believe it or not, putting my special code word in the middle of a column hardly makes it the most susceptible to ID theft. Earlier this month, PC Magazine came out with the top 10 most common passwords, and if any look familiar, it said you might as well "hand over your wallet or purse to the first person you see on the street."
The Top 10 are "password," "123456," "qwerty," "abc123," "letmein," "monkey," "myspace1," "password1," "link182" and "(your first name)."
Of course, any of these might be my password, too, since I just put them in the column, but maybe that's just what I want you to think. Or do I?
So, if overtly protecting your digital crown jewels is out, the only possible defense is covert, deceptive misdirection. My advice: Write a column and proclaim you put your password in it, but of course -- don't.
Run away from them over here so you don't have to run away from them over there.