The Unbearable Tyranny of the Password

25 passwords you should never use - plus the best password manager apps
Keep it simple

Sorry, your password must contain a capital letter, two numbers, a symbol, an inspiring message, a spell, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin. Anon.

Last time I checked, I was the custodian of something of the order of thirty-seven passwords, and counting. That would be around thirty-five more passwords than any man or woman possessed of above average intelligence, can reasonably be expected to commit to memory. It’s an absolute nightmare.  I know, I know. You are about to bestow upon me a patronizing smile, and ask me why I don’t write them all down on a sheet of paper and cunningly hide it under my pillow, thus stymieing any would-be nocturnal password hunter with a sub-20 IQ. Or better still, secrete this precious sheet of password-scribed foolscap right on top of my work station, plumb spang in front of the desktop. Hidden in plain sight, as it were. By a strange inversion of logic, it would be such an obviously idiotic place to conceal anything that no one would dream of looking for it there. Except, of course, for the wife. Unless you don’t even want her to find it, in which case you are a fit case for the loony bin.

Honestly, not a day passes when I am not required to key in a password for a myriad number of important and often routine matters. Just to get into your internet on the computer or mobile phone for starters. Since this is an activity you perform virtually every day, the punching in of your precious password should not strain your faculties over much. The first thing you wish to do of a morning along with your steaming cup of tea or coffee, is to read the newspaper. As many of us are still wary of catching Covid from the newsprint, we have opted to take in the digital version. In fact, you have subscribed to the newspaper of your choice to appear on your computer screen. To open which, you are called upon to key in your username and password. The former is a breeze, the latter a giant headache. A quick aside. A smart aleck advised me, if I am keen on the real McCoy (the one with the smelly, newsprint ink), to give it the microwave treatment for 30 seconds to effectively destroy any virus that might or might not have attached itself to the Finnish imported newsprint. So, I did that. Unwisely. Unless you wish to have the edges of your favourite newspaper blackened and curled up at the edges, rapidly threatening an incendiary incident in your kitchen, you are well advised to steer clear of the microwave. Cup of tea or hot water, YES. Newspaper, NO.

The head scratching exercise for password recall now begins in right earnest. What was it? ‘67b&*duh5%’ or wait, wait, I tell a lie, it was ‘67c@*duh7#.’ Of course, you have written this down somewhere but damned if you can recall where you kept that blasted piece of paper. Your morning has already been effectively ruined by this password puzzle. Why couldn’t I have just devised a simple password like ‘dumbo1’? You couldn’t because your smart computer flashed a mocking ‘weak’ in response to ‘dumbo1.’ You then went for the complex numero / alphabetico option which your desktop heartily approved. ‘Very strong,’ it roared in assent. That’s how I dug a hole for myself. Of course, you have the option of saving your password on screen, but you then run the risk of any smartass nerd getting into the system and playing merry hell with it. Welcome to the digital world.

At times, sensing your discomfiture, the screen very shrewdly asks if you have forgotten your password. Have I ever? Anyhow, help is at hand. Get ready for the complex process of ‘changing your password.’ One thing bugs me.  If my system was that smart, why does it not just tell me what the bally password is, as my aunt is wont to say. Oh no, nothing as straightforward as that will do. I will now be asked a number of inane questions like what my favourite colour is, what the name of my pet cocker-spaniel is, where my distinguishing birthmark is emblazoned, and so on. Enough to drive one batty. As for the requested revelation of my birthmark, where mine is situated cannot be revealed to anyone, never mind how distinguished or distinguishing it is!

Then there is the all-important internet banking system that most of us nowadays have perforce fallen prey to. Again, there is the username to be filled in, followed by the password and if you have managed to enter both these panels to everybody’s satisfaction, you have now entered the hallowed portals of your own savings bank account. You go into the page, constantly looking back over your shoulder, just in case your housemaid or your driver has shimmered into the room silently, Jeeves-like, on padded feet and are looking intently at the screen and getting a load of all your ill-gotten gains. Actually, in my case if such a situation were to eventuate, my domestic staff will only be horrified at the appalling state of my finances and will stop pestering me for a raise.

Getting back to internet banking, if I do get to the stage where I wish to transfer funds to a third party, I will then be asked to provide something called a profile password, which I had forgotten all about, though I know it is there. Stashed away somewhere in that elusive sheet of paper. As if all this was not maddening enough, just when I am about to transact the money transfer, my mobile phone will go ‘ping’ and I will be given a One Time Password (OTP), which I will have to punch in, in record time (‘Where is my effing mobile?’) because the OTP will expire in seven seconds flat or some such hair-raising time frame, else I will have to request for it to be resent. Incidentally, have you ever tried to scroll down your SMS message to decipher the precious OTP, while keeping the home page displayed on your mobile active? Again, with an impossible, Damocles sword deadline hanging over your head? Whoever designed this system has clearly read Dante’s Inferno.

 I am aware that today’s IT generation kiddos can do all this in their sleep, but we senior citizens get the heebie-jeebies while going through the process. Finally, I am forever petrified about keying in that additional zero. I fret and I fume. Did I type in Rs.10000 or Rs.100000? In the days of yore, when we used our fountain pens to write out something called cheques, we could always tear it up if a mistake was detected. Now you have to watch your fingers, your keyboard and your screen like a hawk. One wrong move and you have made some undeserving sap a very rich man! Those with fat fingers, be ever mindful – they tend to overlap on the keys. Why can’t the algorithms or software, or whatever the heck it’s called, respond (prior to the completion of the transaction) with some timely warning like, ‘Are you sure you wish to splurge a lakh of rupees on this good-for-nothing wastrel?’ After that, you will always be doubly careful.

I think you get the point I am striving to make in my circumlocutory way. The password pestilence keeps bugging you all the livelong day when you visit Amazon, Flipkart, online service for anti-virus protection (not Covid but McAfee), Tatasky, credit card issues, mobile telephony, car rentals, travel bookings, dental appointments, Swiggy, Zomato – there simply is no end to it. Then again, being the smart one, I feel safe and secure. I have all my usernames and passwords, mushroomed to 42 since I commenced this column, ensconced, snug as a bug in a rug under my pillow. Perhaps I should consider slipping it into my pillow case. What care I if it makes a crackling sound each time I toss and turn in restless slumber? And snore. I am a sound sleeper, irretrievably lost in the Land of Nod but my sleep-deprived wife stares, ceiling-wards, wide-eyed. What’s more, my searches have provided me with the ultimate password solution through this anonymous quote – I changed my password everywhere to ‘incorrect.’ That way, when I forget it, it always reminds me, ‘Your password is ‘incorrect.’ On a more serious note, the words of celebrated American digital artist, Christopher-Stoll are salutary, Treat your password like a toothbrush. Don’t let anybody else use it, and get a new one every six months.

Crikey, I must remember to order my Oral B Cavity Defense Soft Black toothbrush next time I visit Amazon.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. a lovely & lively piece of writing, on a teething tech issue increasingly harassing a common man. Hats off to the (non)tech-savvy penner.


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