Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The science behind the perfect password

Some alarming news has come to my attention, and I thought I’d better share it with you before it’s too late for you to do anything about it so you can take appropriate safeguards if you choose.
It has to do with an essay I wrote recently about my amazing ability to come up with safe passwords for use on computers.
By that, I mean passwords that cannot be breached, or hacked into, as it were, within a reasonable period of time.
If you are just learning to use a computer and you don’t know yet what a password is, it may be too late.
But passwords are made-up, or contrived, secret keys that open the world to you so that you may use the machine without anyone else knowing what you are doing.
They are sort of like PINs on your car’s engine, or your bank account, that allow you to keep secrets from others who may want to know what you are doing.
Since we are now, in this lesson, studying advanced computer usage (it’s sort of like advanced algebra) let us proceed with our lesson on how to make up passwords that no one can decipher.
After my last essay on the subject, I received an email from no less an authority than His Honor Gene Lucci, who is not only a highly respected member of the judiciary in Lake County and who sits on the bench in Lake County Common Pleas Court, but he is also the resident expert on the use of computers in the courtroom.
Be advised there is a great deal of difference in “sitting on the bench” in court and in baseball.
In baseball, you don’t get to play unless someone else is hurt or is taken out of the game by the manager for shoddy performance.
In court, when you are on the bench, you are actually working and listening attentively as lawyers are trying to keep crooked clients out of prison while prosecutors are trying to send them up the river.
In this instance, the river is the Hudson and the place prosecutors are trying to send them is Sing Sing. But we don’t have a Hudson River here, so they just try to send them away for a while to keep them away from the law-abiding citizens.
But I digress. That is about upper level work in law enforcement. Here we’re talking about passwords, and my close friend Gene Lucci knows everything there is to know about them.
In my essay, I noted that pi to 20 places would be an excellent password, especially if you don’t give it away by starting with 3, (as in three point) and just using the next 20 numbers as a way of fooling people, which is the exact idea when making up freakish passwords.
Gene, the expert, informed me that it would take a desktop a quadrillion years to crack that code if it contained the three point.
“Without the decimal point, it would take only 7,000 years to crack,” he estimated.
But who’s in a hurry?
“There is a website that will tell you how to secure a password,” he wrote. “Check it out. It is (are you ready for this?)”
So good luck with that. And happy sailing into the harbor of safe passwords. But I have an entirely different approach to the subject. Make your password as simple and as easy for outsiders to figure out as possible. And if somebody hacks into your computer, who cares?
At least, in my case I don’t care because I have nothing to hide. The only interesting thing an outsider would find in my computer at home would be a bunch of old emails and stuff people have sent me that I have saved.
For example, the most compelling thing you might find would be an old film clip of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell tap-dancing to “Begin the Beguine.”
It is sensational. But if you really want to see it, don’t try to hack into my computer. I will be happy to send it to you.
Greg Patt, my personal computer guru, told me I don’t even need a password, because there is nothing there worth looking at.
Besides, he said, my password is much too complicated. Just so we are not holding anything back, it is “MaggieTricia” (our two beautiful puppies) plus four numbers in reverse order which were my street address on Maplewood Drive when I lived in Parma in 1959.
I would like to submit that to Judge Lucci to see how he rules on how long it would take to crack it.
But, of course, he doesn’t even have to crack it, because I already told you everything you need to know except the house number.
I will give you a clue: It is four numeral digits between zero and ten. And that’s as far as I am going to go.


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