Recently I wrote about identity theft, and, to be sure, it’s a very real problem. But I think some websites are overreacting. They have become insane watchdogs that keep everyone out of your house…including you.
For starters, the password situation is totally out of control. It’s bad enough that I’m supposed to remember a password for every single website I’ve ever visited, but now you need a secret decoder ring just to create a password.
More than once I’ve canceled a purchase because it was too much of a pain in the ass to create a password that met all of the site’s requirements. After the third attempt, I just said, screw it, I’ll either buy this foam dog ramp from a less secure site or my poor old arthritic pal will have to get by without easy access to the couch.
Hey, we all have to make sacrifices.
If you think I’m exaggerating about this, I give you now the actual password requirements of a site I visited recently:
9 to 15 characters with at least one number, one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter and one special character.
There was also stuff about repeating characters, and consecutive numbers and so forth. Forget about remembering this password the next time I visit the site; I couldn’t even remember it long enough to retype it in the “re-enter password” box. And of course, I can’t look at what I just typed in the “enter password” box, because evidently all I just typed was 9-15 asterisks since the default attitude of every site is that nobody ever registers for anything without having someone looking over their shoulder, ready to steal their newly-minted password.
When it came time to select a special character, I had one in mind, but there’s no middle finger button on my keyboard.
But, okay, fine. I finally get past the first “create account” screen without having it bounce back at me with input boxes highlighted in red (“You didn’t do this correctly, idiot!”). Now I have to deal with the security question.
Usually, this is something simple, like “mother’s maiden name,” or “name of your pet.” But then I had to sign in for Connecticut’s health insurance exchange.
Yes, I understand that this site has a genuine need for security. But it had not one, not two, but four security questions. Much has been made of the difficulties folks have had with the Obamacare websites, but I always thought it was because of software malfunctions, not security question proliferation.
I haven’t even gotten to the good part. Following is the list of security questions I had to choose from, and I am not making any of them up:
- How many bones have you broken?
- In what city or country do you want to retire?
- In what city or town was your first job?
- What is the country of your ultimate dream vacation?
- What is the first and last name of your favorite college professor?
- What is the first name of the girl or boy you first kissed?
- What is the last name of your favorite high school teacher?
- What is the name of a college you applied to but didn’t attend?
- What is the name of the company of your first job?
- What is the name of the first school you attended?
- What is the name of the first undergraduate college you attended?
- What is the name of your favorite childhood friend?
- What is the name of your favorite childhood teacher?
- What is the name of your hometown newspaper?
- What is the street number of the house you grew up in?
- What is the title and artist of your favorite song?
- What is the title and author of your favorite book?
- What is your favorite sport?
- What is your favorite teacher’s nickname?
- What is your favorite team?
- What school did you attend for sixth grade?
- What street did you live on for third grade?
- What was the color of your first car?
- What was the first concert you attended?
- What was the last name of your favorite teacher?
- What was the last name of your third grade teacher?
- What was the make and model of your first car?
- What was the name of your primary/elementary school?
- What was the name of your first pet?
Are these security questions, or are they taking a survey? I mean, the answers to some of these may be more embarrassing than any of the health information someone might enter. (“I don’t mind if you know I have hemorrhoids, but I am not telling you that my first car was an AMC Pacer!”)
Or maybe they’re cleverly testing my memory. They want to know what street I lived on for third grade? I freeze up when a gas pump asks for my current zip code! But if I can’t remember, will they deny me health coverage? (“Oh, he’s already suffering from memory loss.”)
And what if I tell them what my favorite song is now, but then the hip hop artist Young Thug comes out with a new album and one of the tracks on it becomes my new favorite song? If the health care exchange website asks the security question, do I type in my current favorite song, or do I need to remember that “Call Me Maybe” was my favorite song when I registered?
And why are they so interested in my education? Twelve of the 29 questions have something to do with schools. Are they concerned that I might be too stupid to get health insurance? (And, BTW, I don’t know how it is with school kids now, but in my day, we didn’t give nicknames to our favorite teachers, we reserved them for quality educators like Deep End DiGangi, my lunatic middle school history teacher.)
But passwords and security questions aren’t enough for some websites. They also have Captchas which are groupings of random-ish letters and/or numbers that look like they were created by a chimpanzee holding a pen between its toes. This is supposed to prevent “bots,” from committing heinous crimes such as participating in online polls, registering for email updates, or purchasing “I Like Bots” t-shirts from Think Geek.*
The problem is, half the time I don’t know what the Captcha says either, so I have to ask three or four times for new ones, until I get one that was written by a monkey with better penmanship.
Look, I know there are evil, nasty people out there constantly trying to grab my personal information for nefarious use. But I am not one of them.
Let me in. Please.
See you soon.
*Not a real item.