Halt! Who Goes There?

Remember the old black and white war movies where so much of the action takes place in the dark? Soldiers from one side or the other stumble around a muddy camp or sneak silently into or out of a different camp until that terrible moment when they’re stopped by a burly guy in a helmet with a big rifle across his chest. His scowl does nothing to make anyone feel better as he utters the fateful words: “Halt! Who goes there?”  After which, the unwitting soldiers have to come up with a password or die.

This happens to me several times a day as I try to get work and business done at my computer.  Nobody’s holding a gun to my head, but they might as well be as I try to remember one password or another before I can access my bank account or get to my websketches or check to see if a story’s been accepted at Glimmer Train magazine, or get help from my internet provider when things go south.  User Name and Password are the big bully gatekeepers of my life these days.   

Somebody once said that computers are like Old Testament gods – lots of rules and no mercy.  When it comes to passwords this is absolutely true.  The rules:
     1. Never write your password down.  (Good luck with that.)
     2. Never use the same password twice. (Ditto)
     3. Use a random series of letters and numbers. (Which I can’t possibly remember unless I write it down.)
     4. Never use your birthday, your kids’ birthdays, etc.  (Okay, I can be more creative than that.)
     5. Change your password frequently. (Are you kidding? I just memorized the first one.)

Yes, I know all these passwords are meant to protect us, our money and our privacy in the Age After Typewriters. But if that’s the case, how come hackers are able to break into systems every other day and steal thousands of identities?  Shift money into their own accounts? Change websites? Who’s stopping them and shouting “Halt! Who goes there?”  Huh? Who’s stopping them? That’s what I want to know.  Nobody, that’s who. 

Because computers are imperfect and flawed. They’re useful tools for any number of things, but machines that were originally designed to do big, complicated calculations have been redesigned by imperfect techies to do a lot of other things that were never intended in the beginning. And we’ve been lulled into believing those other things make our lives easier.  Worse, we’ve been lulled into believing those other things are now necessary.

I recently opened a new bank account, and by the time I’d come up with three new passwords (which are written down but I’m not telling you where), selected two new icons, and gone through all the other rigamarole, I was too frazzled to learn how to deposit my checks at an ATM where I would use one of those new passwords. I was assured it was great to be able to deposit my checks anytime, anywhere, even at 3:00 a.m.

I’m an old-fashioned customer who is sleeping soundly at 3:00 a.m.  I might go online to check my balance, but when I put a check in the bank, I want to hand it to a teller and let her give me a receipt. I want to say, “Hi, how’s your day going?” and have her smile back and say, “Great. How about yours?” I want to have a life that’s never too busy to make it more convenient to find an ATM at 1:00 a.m. where I can deposit my checks than to just run to the bank during the day and do it. 

Depositing a check at 3:00 a.m. may be just the thing for another customer, but I’d be happier if the bank didn’t have a one-size-fits-all way of doing business.

This morning at 8:00 a.m. I had a call from the bank. A cheery young woman wished me a good morning and then launched into a spiel about other new services I might want sign up for.  At 8:00 a.m. I was groggy, and asked that she call me back later. She will. I don’t want any more services from the bank. I have more than I can handle right now, and I know those new services will all require new passwords. I don’t want anymore passwords.  I was too groggy to say this when she called, but I was not too groggy to ask where she was calling from.

Ohio.

My head was clear enough to ask her to please vote for Barack Obama.  She chuckled and said, “You don’t like the other guy?” and then the line went dead.

Halt. Who goes there?

30 responses

  1. Someone , likely in Ohio as anywhere, has been using my credit card number! After I get a new number, and new password, I’ll get to remember how many accounts bill to that account. The image of the eye at the top of the pyramid on a dollar bill comes to mind. Other than being inconvenient as all get out, a one dollar bill is pretty safe! Not worth counterfeiting, always accepted, and the machines you can insert them into have gotten more forgiving of creased corners. A briefcase full of them would probably get the wrong attention…

    1. You’re probably right about the briefcase, but you wouldn’t need a password for it…sorry about the credit card mess.

  2. Password humour is the best! 5 minutes and I’m still laughing;)

    1. Excellent! Thanks for the comment…

  3. I’m the same way with remembering where I parked my car. Funny post. Reminded me of this freshly-pressed post from a few weeks back. It’s not just the passwords, it’s the security questions that are out of control:
    http://kristenbrakeman.com/2012/09/17/the-new-bizarre-online-security-questions/

    1. You are so right about the security questions. I am terrified that I’ll forget my mother’s maiden name or the first school I attended! …Thanks for the comment.

  4. I bet the lady from Ohio will vote for Obama because you told her too and she won’t need a password to do it with! Nice blog!

    1. Thanks! I hope you’re right about that lady from Ohio…

  5. Loved it! I have been on a rant about the banks for awhile now – every time I walk in, it seems like they ask me “don’t you use online banking?” Yes, thank you, but I prefer to come in and talk to a real live person.

  6. I’m a friendly
    Your use of humour is delightful.
    Thank-you for this post . . . ‘scusa, just going to do some 0200 banking. LOL

  7. An old rule about passwords: Easily remembered passwords are easily guessed, hard-to-remember passwords get written down and stolen! ;-)

    Excellent post, congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Thanks, “John” (how’s Ayn?)…The rule is perfect…

  8. I don’t bank online either. Maybe it’s a fogey thing, but I, too, want real people in front of me — and someone with a name to discuss things with if/when they screw it up. Online banking is a great way for banks to remove personal responsibiiity and culpability for their errors or omissions.

    1. Exactly right…Thanks for the comment…

  9. I shot once a trailer for a documentary film about a holocaust survivor with a terrific, heroic, brave and – yes – very entertaining life story. The man fathered 5 children, started 3 businesses throughout his life, sold them when it got boring and started from the scratch again. He could tell stories in the most amazing way, we – the film team – had to hold our breath often not to laugh out loud. He found out that he’s Jewish and not Catholic when the Nazis picked him up and deported him and his family. He was still a child back than, lying about his age so he will be sent to work and will survive. This man had a great humor and was a big flirt.
    When he showed us the number-tattoo on his arm, we fell all silent. He broke the awkward moment making a joke:
    “No, guys, it’s not bothering me! It’s useful, this number, look!”
    And he went to his car, pulled up his sleeve again, typed the number from the Auschwitz-Tattoo in to the key-pad and unlocked his vehicle.
    What a password-story!
    I still think of him. Go and have an ice cream in Caesarea’s old city, when you get a chance to visit Israel. He runs the place with his young wife and it’ll be a delight to meet this man.

    1. What a story, indeed! Thanks…

  10. Passwords earn multiple curse words from me. Must start with a letter, can’t end with a number, should have at least one special character, but only certain ones…criminy daylights! So I’ve started using random combinations from junk mail and then request a new password every time I log in.

  11. Great idea about the junk mail…oh, and don’t forget to check the Caps Lock…That one hung me up at the Library for 15 minutes the other day…

  12. I have to make a new password on 90% of the pages I visit because I keep forgetting them, and they are never sent to me on mail. Guess I need to start writing them up :).

  13. Interesting read. Recently I installed 2 virtual machines on a hidden drive through Truecrypt – So I had to remember passwords for the following:
    Truecrypt fake drive, Truecrypt real drive, VSM 1, VSM 1 root, VSM 2 login, VSM 2 root.

    And for security each password, aside the truecrypt fake drive, was >32 characters. This was fine, I remembered them all. However, I forgot my login password for Windows (information overload!!).

    And therefore I had to pay Toshiba £30 for a hard drive reset disk. Passwords are a pain in the arse.

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