Checking her emails wasn’t usually a cause of agony for Polly Pastoretti, but tonight was different.
“Damn it!” She shook her head, let it fall on her chest for a moment, sighed and looked up at the screen again. The message was from a website she hadn’t even thought about in at least a year. Some nerdy sociopaths had hacked into it, found a treasury of names and passwords and posted them on the internet just to get a rise out of people. Her information could be out in cyperspace. She was advised to go into every site where she used the compromised password and change it.
“Well, now I know how I’m going to spend my evening,” she said to her cat Hermes, who was sitting on the desk, giving her a cat’s version of a concerned look.
Polly had used that same password for at least fifteen other websites, mostly online shopping sites where her credit card information was also stored. Her techie-minded friend Morton had advised her to use a complicated password with capital letters, small letters, numbers and symbols included – one that nobody could figure out. Polly had come up with a good one, and was planting it everywhere.
“Are you stupid or something?” Morton had said. “That’s just asking for trouble!”
“But I can’t remember fifteen different unguessable passwords. I’d have to write them down and carry them around. I heard you are not supposed to do that, in case you get mugged or hit by a bus or fall down a manhole.”
So that’s how a “strong” password ended up having to be changed as quickly as possible on fifteen websites.
Polly logged on to Womanwarrior.com with her old password, went to her account page and clicked on change password. “My mother told me to choose … you,” she said, and hit the letter “f.” She wrote the letter on a piece of notebook paper, under “Womanwarrior.” She continued to do this until she thought she had something usable, then re-typed everything in the repeat new password space. A popup came up, telling her that there was no match between the two new passwords. She deleted everything and, making sure she hadn’t hit the “Caps Lock” key and staring hard at what she had written down, typed it all over again. This time it matched, but another popup came up telling her that it was too short to be “strong,” and would she like to use something else. She did the whole thing over again, adding three new characters. This time it was okay, and the deed was done. Morton would be proud of her.
Fifteen websites later, Polly’s eyes were crossed, her brain was stuck on “confusion,” her neck was stiff and her body felt like she had fallen down that manhole. She was ready to lie down, collapse and never look at a computer again for the rest of her life, or at least until the next time she got bored.
She looked over her list of websites and new passwords. Oh no! She had forgotten one site where she had bought a Hawaiian muumuu two years ago that ended up being too short and pretty ugly, and which she had promptly returned. She didn’t remember if she had stored any credit card information there or not.
She looked at Hermes, who was lying in front of her on the desk, deep into a kitty dream. “Here we go again,” she said, as she opened her browser once more.