Technology

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No entry. Isn't it time for an alternative to passwords?

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That which was designed to save us, is spoiling our lives. Which is a fancy way of saying that passwords have become a terrible pain in the elbow. About fifteen years ago, when most of us began our connection to the sprawling internet beast, we only needed one or two passwords. Accessing  the internet was a right old palaver, involving squealing modems and dial-tones. If one was fortunate enough to connect to a server, a password was needed. Then possibly, another to draw down one's emails. That was it. What's more, those passwords were embedded in nasty-looking beige boxes, but at least they were there permanently.

"We've reached the point where a file containing a rake of log-in details is far more valuable than some hooky jewellery."

Incredibly, we've drifted backwards from there. Thanks to a plethora of rogues, thieves, crooks and vagabonds, our online lives are now tainted with paranoia. Dozens of sites have our identities, even our bank details, and thousands of villains will stop at nothing to rob them. We've reached the point where a file containing a rake of log-in details is far more valuable than some hooky jewellery - so there's every reason to protect our identities. Or, more accurately, the sites we use must protect us as we use them. This means passwords. Lots and lots of passwords.

Naturally, as the internet has grown and evolved, so have its security measures. The password is no longer good enough if it's just your dog's name, or 'chocolate', or the standard 'password'. Oh no.
Firstly, it must have numbers in there, but 'password1' won't do because you'll need capitals in the mix too. Ooh, and some special characters - perhaps a sprinkling of exclamation marks and dollar signs. The system will probably bar you from using 'password' - or even 'Pa$$word123' - so you're going to end up with something like 'fF$£"AsPPP471'. And then, you have to remember it. Don't write it down, though. Writing down passwords is like holding an open day at your home for burglars. What are you, an idiot? Also, you must have a different password for each of 124 websites with which you have an account. And remember all of them too.

This, of course, is completely ridiculous. Website security has forced us to write our passwords on Post-It notes which dangle from our screens, because it demands we create ciphers which are impossible to remember. Ever screamed at the ceiling because you're locked out of a crucial site? Of course you have. We all have. Usually every couple of days. And when we complain, we're told this is an essential part of the battle against cyber-crime. So really it's tough cheddar, buddy.   

But hold on. Wasn't the internet supposed to make life infinitely more easy? Wasn't its intention to allow us to glide seamlessly from store, to bank account, to holiday booking; like a swan on a mirrored pond? Yes. It was. And yet here we are, praying we can pay off our credit card without being flagged as an international fraudster because we used a dollar sign instead of a question mark.

I am not a web developer, but I can't help thinking this all needs some attention. There must be a more civilized and simple way to prove our identities than via these, rather insecure strings of characters. An algorithm of some kind? Facial recognition via webcam? A full history of past lovers?

As I say, I'm no technician - so the actual solution must remain the responsibility of some charlie who knows about these things. However, one thing's for certain. Whoever that person is, they'll make a royal fortune, because the entire digital world will adopt their alternative in a heartbeat.   

Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant

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