One of my favorite game shows growing up was "Password." Each round started with the announcer whispering: "And the password is ...," followed by a word one player tried to get their partner to say using single-word clues.
Little did I know that I would be playing a personal version of password every day, just as most of you do. I have dozens of alphanumeric strings stored in the mushy password partition of my brain. I tap into that ever-expanding vault every time I log onto my work computer, home computer, check e-mail, use an automated teller machine, check voice-mail, do online banking, retrieve personal data from Web sites or connect to secure servers.
I usually remember which password I used when venturing beyond the virtual walls in place to protect my identity, information or other stuff. Heck, I still have the lock and remember the combination that protected my Chuck Taylors and sweaty socks tucked in my gym locker back in seventh grade: 35-22-0.
I assess a value to the information being protected. If there is little at risk, the password is very simple -- a combination of letters and numbers that mean something to me, but nothing to anyone else. If the password involves a purchase, it's much more complex. I throw in symbols like "$, @, #" and frequently use numbers in place of letters and vice versa.
Some experts recommend changing passwords every 90 days. I don't, but should. The more often you change them, the safer you are -- in theory, that is. The key is formulating a password that will be difficult to hack.
What constitutes a "good" password? The University of Iowa Hawk ID site (http://hawkid.uiowa.edu/about/goodpassword.htm) recommends choosing a password that is: difficult to guess; seven or eight characters long; containing punctuation or symbols; containing numbers; or has unusual spelling and capitalization.
Stay away from using your own name; the name of family members, pets or friends; common words (even non-English words); common phrases; license plate numbers; phone numbers; or anything that can be easily tied to you.
A recent story in PC magazine made it obvious that not everyone thinks through their passwords completely. The top 10 most often used passwords are (1 through 10): password, 123456, qwerty, 123abc, letmein, monkey, myspace1, password1, blink182 and (your first name).
If any of your passwords are in the list above, shame on you. Stop reading and go change them -- now. Ask your parents, kids and friends if they're using these simple passwords and stand over any offender until they make changes. While you're at it, have them remove the front door key from beneath the welcome mat, too.
Share your Internet story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.