Saturday, November 17, 2012

Retirement Tools — Passwords for Seniors

SplashData annually releases a list of passwords that hackers consider the worst (which means the easiest for them to crack). “Password" and "123456” once again top this year’s list. Other returning entries are (sing along now) “abc123,” qwerty (just look at your keyboard) and monkey (no clue on that one). New ones include "welcome," which is apparently the default password for many operating systems when first installed.

Other passwords that are easy to crack are the names of your children and pets. Obviously, these vary by user. However, as a tribute to the popularity of certain names, two that once again made the national 25 “worst” list are Ashley and Michael. Jesus was a newcomer this year, as was ninja. Don’t look at me; I just report the news.

I’ve done research on common, but bad, choices in passwords for seniors. Not surprisingly, these include gramps, granny, nana, pops, bubbie, mima, nono and a litany of other words that mean grandmother or grandfather in a foreign language. Coming on fast is abuela, reflecting the growth in our Hispanic population. Likewise bad choices are the names of your grandchildren. Grandparents apparently practice generation-skipping, preferring to ignore their own offspring and to go straight to the names of their grandkids.

Other common and easily divined passwords among seniors are popular terms like Medicare, SocialSecurity, and Annuity. Likewise senior life tools such as walker, hearingaid and dentures; and such senior lifestyle aspirations as goldenyears, condo, timeshare and downsize. None are good choices if you want to secure your computer files, folks.

Password experts recommend that we include numbers along with letters, but I’ve found this to be a tad inconvenient. Numbers I’d go to first are too easy for hackers to figure out. Others are moving targets. Take for instance the age to collect Social Security. We can do this as early as 62. When I first started working, full retirement age was 65. By the time I reached retirement, it was 66. A password with this in mind could wind up being “SS62wait65no66.” True, no hacker is likely to come up with it, but then neither would I when I needed it.

SplashData recommends we think in terms of “passphrases” instead of passwords. That is, multiple words strung together, preferably separated by hyphens or other punctuation. An example they give is “dog-eats-bone.” I’m adding to that suggestion using words that are easy to remember for us, but not as easy for a hacker to divine (or, in many cases, to spell). The trick is to come up with passwords that no hacker is likely to stumble upon accidentally, but that are part of your own everyday life.

Here are some examples to consider. In the “guaranteed to stump a hacker’s spellcheck” vein: presbyopia, cholesterol, hypertension, osteoporosis, roughage, hemorrhoids and bunionectomy. These are all words that are familiar to those over 65, therefore easy for us to remember. I’m still working on how to provide us with secret clues to their correct spelling. Feel free to send me your suggestions.

Passwords that come out of our retirement experiences are also good choices, especially ones that remind us of the more stressful aspects of senior living. Some examples here are (and you’ll notice I’m following SplashData’s recommendation to use hyphens): pension-fraud, irrevocable-trust, not-so-longterm-care, and yes, generation-skipping.

The women among my readers may want to consider such easy-to-remember phrases as daftoldbat, goathair, liverspots and canthookmybra. Or daft-old-bat, goat-hair, liver-spots and Can’t-hook-my-bra, if you want to be really secure. Male readers can choose among curmudgeon, fart-machine, What-me-shave? (remember Alfred E. Newman?) and drools-when-eating. All gloriously evocative, yet highly secure.

I hope this post on senior passwords has provided useful information that will help you come up with more secure choices for your own computer needs. If you’re having trouble remembering your more secure password, there’s always those failsafe fallbacks: “Can’t-remember-my-password” and “Where-the-heck-did-I-write-it-down?” Note the use of apostrophe in one and question mark in the other—great foils for would-be hackers. Be sure to take note of where they are on your QWERTY keyboard.

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