The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 12, 1999


Do Your Homework

Town Meeting season is almost upon us, promising both an April and a May gathering. For many people, just the mention of the words "Town Meeting" starts them fidgeting in their seats. So here's a tip for those who dread meetings in the Corey auditorium that seem to go on foreverplan to attend the library trustees' informational night on Wednesday, March 17. Deciding whether or not the town should take advantage of the state grant and build a library now for the 21st century will be no easy task as voters weigh the costs, the needs and the possibilities. It would ensure a much smoother process if citizens arrived at the April Town Meeting well-informed on the whys and wherefores, and the trustees' meeting next week is a good place to ask many of those questions that tend to slow Town Meeting down to a crawl.

The Gleason Library Trustees and their building committee have put in countless hours of hard work for the town and now it's the town's turn to do a little work in return. Attend the meeting; ask your questions and be prepared to make an informed choice at the Special Town Meeting on April 7.

Password protected

It is another example of the law of unintended consequences. I am the beneficiary of services too numerous to tally, each offering the convenience of transactions at the push of a button, anytime, anywhere. Each also adds to the burgeoning complexity of my daily routine.

Signing up seems so innocuous"please choose a password that is unusual but easy for you to remember and contains at least six and no more than ten letters and numbers." It was neither difficult nor complicated at first. But as my servicesand their corresponding user names and passwordsincreased, the protective guardsmen at the gates of my secure domains have become my enemies, challenging and taunting each attempt to access my own virtual life.

I tried to count my various passwords and PINs for this essay. I stopped at 23, still not certain that I had included them all. They range from the ubiquitous bank card PIN to the seldom-used password for my personalized Internet home page. They also include the passwords to check my voice mail, log on to the computer network at work, activate and disable the house alarm system, check my e-mail and conduct on-line legal research.

That is not to say that I have 23 unique passwords; despite security guidelines to the contrary, I often use one of several passwords for each new service. But there are a series of impediments to the most concerted effort to simplify my passwords. Not all passwords may be the same length, and not all services allow me to choose my own password. Because I was too late signing up for some services, my preferred user name was already taken, and I've had to select different names for different services. Some services (most office networks, for example) require users to change their password every 45 days or so. Due to security concerns, I'm also loathe to use the same password for less consequential services as the one I use, for example, to transact on-line banking from home.

These factors, especially in combination, can produce severe frustration. Two examples will illustrate my point. My home alarm system uses two codesone to arm and disarm the system, and the other to identify myself to the alarm company if they call the house when the alarm goes off. I've seldom used the latter code. When a winter storm knocked out our electricity at 3 o'clock one morning, automatically triggering an alarm, the alarm company called asking me for the identification code I seldom use and could not remember or find.

More recently, a cousin set up an area on an Internet service for my extended family, to post news and photos, chat and exchange storiesall within a secure environment. Coincidentally, my cousin used the same service as the one I selected a few years ago for my Internet home page. I personalized my page, using a password I didn't care about and eventually forgot. When I tried to log onto my family site, the service wouldn't tell me my password. Instead, they instructed me to sign up as a new user, but would not accept my preferred user name (it was already takenby me!). My choices for a new password were also rejected.

People who know about such things say that any sophisticated hacker who really wants to break through a security system can do so. So what's the point? Maybe some day voice prints, retina recognition or DNA testing will eliminate the need for passwords. In the meantime, I'm logging off.


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito