Trying to remember passwords is making us paranoid. So would you outsource?

Author

Josephine Fairley

December 10, 2014

Hackers have thousands of private details from Sony, after the company kept its computer passwords in a file called – yes – ‘passwords’. Josephine Fairley explains why we’re all guilty of lapses in personal security – and offers a solution

We all know the feeling of getting to our front door, feeling for our keys – and realising, with a sickening heart-thud, that they’re either: a) on the kitchen table on the other side; b) they’ve been lost. Or maybe nicked. Maybe by that stranger watching – is he watching me? – from across the road, who could, just could, know where you and your flatscreen live.

I reckon most of us get a version of that paranoia on a daily basis. But, now, it tends to happen while we’re sitting at our desks – and it’s all down to our password-protected lives.

Discussions about the nightmare of password management are starting to rival whinges about e-mail overload, in my circle. We’ve all got hundreds of the darned things. Of course passwords are absolutely, 100 per cent necessary: we certainly don’t want others to be able to access sensitive credit card information, or find out what we’ve ordered them for Christmas or, um, perhaps said behind their backs.

But is there anyone out there who truly stays on top of their passwords? (A trio of us were discussing just the other night about how every single time we have to enter our online banking password, during a random check, we end up having to create a new one. Which we promptly forget. EVERY SINGLE TIME.)

But if your flimsy system for staying on top of your passwords is to keep them in a folder on your desktop, then take heart: Sony Pictures just got into big data protection doo-doo for doing exactly that themselves. Thousands of company passwords were kept in a file directory called – yes – ‘Password’, to the undoubted glee of hackers who just posted a treasure trove of leaked documents online. Apparently, the file contained 139 Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Zip files and Pdfs which gave the game entirely away about how to get into access Sony’s own computers, social media accounts and how much Princess Beatrice was paid for her first year working in the London office of the Hollywood studio (reportedly £19,500).

Oh, and for good measure, the leaked files also included the Social Security numbers of 47,000 employees and actors including Sylvester Stallone and Rebel Wilson. You can bet your bottom dollar that the person responsible for THAT breach spent quite a lot of this week hyperventilating into a paper bag.

I completely get why Sony would do that, though.

It’s corporate insanity, yes. But it’s no better than most people I know, who have everything listed in a folder somewhere on their own desktop, or maybe written in their Filofax (or even pinned to a board on the office wall. Come in, why don’t you. Steal my entire life and clean out my bank account, while you’re nicking my laptop!)

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Beatrice has emerged as a victim of the Sony hackers. Photo: PA

I was just talking to my husband about it, this morning: I figure within 10 years, we’ll have thumbprint recognition (as I do on my iPhone 6) for everything, and won’t need to remember passwords any more.

That day can’t come soon enough. Not long ago I downloaded a password protector app called 1Password, which basically now generates random passwords for me, remembers them and auto-fills when I’m online.

Existing passwords (or at least the ones I can remember) were transferred, too. I am reassured by Apple techies that it’s completely secure (my argument to them being: if they can get hold of Jennifer Lawrence’s naked pictures via iCloud, how safe can my passwords be?)

But I did it anyway – and you can, too. Although it took a chunk of time to set up, my personal passwords taken care of.

Well, almost all of them. I haven’t yet got around to using it for business. Which is why, last Friday when an employee left the premises to a job with a rival firm, I had to spend an hour changing every single password we use. (Not that I don’t trust her; it’s simply good hygiene).

That undoubtedly means that this week we’ll all be screaming at our computers and iPhones. Not to mention locked out of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/WordPress till those passwords are updated across every darned gadget.

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Will we even need passwords in the future?

Does anyone else remember the vain promise that technology was going to make our lives simpler? Oh, for the innocent days when the only password you needed was to get into a den made by your big brother, for a feast of jam sandwiches and a glass of lemonade.

And I do sometimes wonder: if we’re struggling this much now, what does the future hold? There’s going to be a whole new industry: the digital locksmith, helping you to get into your own computer because you’ve forgotten the password to your password protector.

In fact, I just Googled the domain name www.digitallocksmith.com. It’s available. That idea’s something I’d most definitely be happy for you to steal…as long as you promise to unlock my passwords for me, of course.

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