Up to my neck in passwords…

Today I had one of those moments which I imagine many people have: I sat staring at the computer screen trying to remember the password I had registered for a particular site that I had not used for a couple of years. I had to give up, I simply could not remember. And then – you can see it was a slow day – I tried to figure out how many sites there are out there on which I have registered and where I need to enter a password. Actually, I have no idea how many there are, but there must be hundreds, maybe thousands.

When the internet first became part of my life, I had to remember very few passwords. I had one to access the network in my then university which was automatically generated for me; this was ‘enolanig’ (no harm mentioning it, I have never used it again); that was quite a clever system, the passwords generated were all non-words, but that sounded as if they might be Nordic or Italian (and so were at least somewhat memorable). There was no online shopping or the like back then (or at least not for me), and so I never really needed to think about other passwords. But bit by bit interesting websites started to require registration with passwords. I will confess that, initially, I used the same password for each and every one of them. It was not an obvious one, but still it was the same.

Then a few years ago I was warned by my then university’s computer services that this was too risky, and I should change all the passwords and vary them between sites. And that’s what I have been doing; which is all very well, except I have now registered countless passwords on heaven knows how many sites, and in the case of many of them I haven’t the slightest idea now what they are. In some cases I am (conveniently but not safely) helped by my computer and the resident cookies, so that I don’t actually have to enter anything. Other sites don’t allow the storing of passwords, and where I use them often I remember them (such as my online banking account).

But how on earth is anyone supposed to keep track of passwords? I am sure I am not alone in having this problem. I don’t find it difficult to think of passwords, but what then? I have a suspicion that too many people use my own initial technique – the same password for everything. Or perhaps they get some assistance from various sites that make suggestions for passwords – including this one, which I rather like, that suggests bad passwords.

A couple of years ago I had the brilliant idea of entering all my passwords (with the relevant websites) in a database. And because this was of course  in itself risky, I attached a password to the file. And now I cannot remember that password, and I haven’t written them down anywhere else.

We’re off into a world of online adventure and convenience. Or rather, you may be; I’ll follow just as soon as I can remember the password.

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5 Comments on “Up to my neck in passwords…”

  1. brianmc Says:


    One master password (make it a sentence or something quite long), and keep all your passwords encrypted in this program. If you’re really bothered. 🙂

  2. ScottK Says:

    Since having my identity stolen and a laptop PC ordered in my name by a Vietnamese ID-theft ring (which was fortunately resolved, and the offender arrested), I’ve moved to a password scheme that enables me to have a different password on each site yet remember them when needed. On each site, my password has three components:

    – An obscure word that I find memorable
    – A number (of more than one digit) randomly selected and memorized by me (same for all sites)
    – A short series of characters determined by the URL of the site; I have a method for determining which characters I use from each URL.

    So far, this has worked very well. And at any time, I can decide to refresh my passwords in one of several ways: changing the number component and/or moving it to a different position in the password; changing the obscure word; altering the method I use to extract the site-specific component from the URL. But because I have a different password on each site, I feel secure enough to keep using the scheme as I have set it up initially. If I change too often, I’ll encounter sites I haven’t used since two or more changes ago, and I’ll have to try several versions to make it work (which may not be a problem unless the site allows only two or three wrong guesses).

    What I like is that I can keep this scheme in my head and not write the passwords anywhere, ever.

  3. Cian Says:

    I think the problem is he’s tried that (albeit without the strong encryption), and can’t remember the master password.

    I’ve always got around it by having my (randomly generated, needs to be kept as the original) DCU password, my password for websites of minor importance, and an important things password. That way there’s at least some measure of security, without leaving me with a million and one passwords to remember.

  4. Sarah Says:

    I’ve got two passwords and one PIN. Use the same PIN for EVERYTHING and even having the two passwords is a nuisance. I’d prefer one 🙂 Of course, I’m screwed if they are discovered, but I’ll deal with that if it happens. Happy New Year Ferdinand 🙂

  5. I’ve been forced into using Password Safe for work; simply too many servers to even consider memorising passwords. Now all I have to worry about is forgetting the Password Safe password…

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