Dear @nna: How Do I Remember My Passwords?

Social advice for the digital age.

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Got a digital dilemma of your own? If you have a question involving technology, the internet, or online etiquette, shoot it to Anna.Pulley@EastBayExpress.com with the subject “Dear Anna.” 

Dear Anna,

How can I keep my passwords straight, as my advancing age creeps over me? — Forever Forgetful


Dear FF,

Here’s a neat hack I use for keeping track of all my passwords: Base them on the names of people who have cruelly rejected you throughout your life. This tactic may extend your therapy sessions by several years, but you'll never get locked out of Hulu again! 

See Also:
Facebook doesn't have to be depressing


Most of us have this problem, FF, regardless of age. Partially it’s due to the fact that more and more websites require some kind of login now. Just last night, I ordered thai food online and was forced to create a login for my order with “Chow Fun,” which I believe did not actually have my fun in mind. As my girlfriend bemoaned, “These days you need a password to wipe your own ass.” (I recommend "S#!t" for that.) 

While the infinite-password trend may continue its annoying upswing into perpetuity, what can we do to help our feeble minds remember them? Here are some suggestions, presented in order from laziest to craziest.

1. Login with Facebook. Many websites allow you to plug your FB login credentials on other sites as a shortcut. Of course, then that site has access to all of your information, friend lists, and coffee foam artistry photos (Nice use of tilt shift, brah!). It also doesn’t work for all sites, however, and hence, should be used sparingly, if at all, with logins you don’t much care about, such as websites about manatees.

2. LastPass. An app that remembers all of your passwords for you, LastPass is an easy-to-use, secure, and encrypted service that stores all of your info in one place. All you have to do is remember a master password to log in to LastPass and you’re set. It’s also available as a browser add-on, and if you’re ever in need of a new username or password, LastPass will generate random, highly secure ones for you and save them.

Here’s a demo:



3. Four words.
Then there’s the web comic xkcd’s shortcut, which suggests that you use four random words (such as familiar hang charge ought), because such phrases are hard for computers to guess, but easy for humans to remember.

Here’s the original xkcd strip:
password_strength.png

4. Mental shortcuts. If you’d like to keep your info stored only in your noggin, then the most often recommended trick for remembering passwords is as follows: Choose a familiar phrase to you, such as “Why didn’t you want me, James McMurtrie?” Then take the first letter from each word: Wdywmjm. Then, add a few special characters to make it more secure: @Wdywmjm!. Then, adapt that password slightly for different websites. So, for Facebook, it could be @Wdywmjm!FB, for instance. For Twitter, it could be @Wdywmjm!TW. Etcetera.

If that paragraph was too much reading for you, you can watch the magic unfold in this Mozilla video involving “Tom” and his crazy password antics.



The downside to this strategy is that not all sites allow you to use special characters, so you have to keep a mental tally of which sites forbid it and which encourage it, which can defeat the purpose entirely.

5. Tip from my dad. “Just write them all down on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer.” While this is actually his advice for everything, analog solutions shouldn’t be outright dismissed. After all, what are the odds that a hacker will physically break into your house and be like, “Noooo, I can’t crack the code! Maybe I’ll check this drawer full of of Wheaties coupons!”

The downside to this is you can never leave your house again, but who needs fresh air when there are kitten videos that urgently need your commentary?

Follow @annapulley on Twitter. She'll tweet you right.

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