And The Password Is?

Passwords. When did they get to be such a major headache? Seems today everyone wants a secret password or special code word so they can know it’s the true me and not some double agent. I mean really, some days I don’t know if I’m really me or not. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really me — that I’m just pretending to be me to get through the day.

When I was a kid, passwords and secret codes were a fun thing we did with my cousins to gain access to a secret hideout or to communicate secret plans for our day’s activities. Perhaps we watched one too many spy movies or TV shows with CIA and KGB agents trying to outsmart each other with encrypted messages and cloak and dagger methods. Today when I try to access my account on everything from social media to shopping websites, they request a “User id and password.” It’s their way of determining if you are from the dark side of Internet.

By some estimates, almost half of Internet traffic is generated by humans, the rest is mostly malicious. That’s a lot of traffic traveling across the networked globe consisting of hackers, spammers, malware, and others from the dark side of the Internet. Online companies are trying to ensure that you are really who you say you are and not Darth Vader. It sounds like a good thing, but in reality they don’t have a clue who we are beyond online transactions and status updates. In the small town I grew up in it seems everyone knew everybody’s business. They knew if you were trustworthy enough for a business transaction. We did not need passwords and user ids.

It’s seems unreal when I think about a trip I took with my parents my senior year in high school in the 1970s to visit an out-of-state college. We traveled to Wisconsin and after we touched down at the airport my dad went to rent a car. He did not have a credit card and the man behind the desk told him that he couldn’t rent a car without a credit card. My dad offered to pay cash for the rental upfront, but that wasn’t acceptable. My dad was growing more and more frustrated when something incredible happened.

“Is there someone I can call to vouch for you?” The man behind the counter finally asked my dad.

My dad thought a moment. “Yeah, you can call my bank.”

My dad gave the man the phone number to the bank in our small town. We watched with anticipation as he called the number and explained the situation.

“They’re putting me through to the president of the bank,” the man said to us as he waited to be connected.

“Oh good. I know him quite well,” my dad said.

The man behind the counter raised an eyebrow. He must have envisioned my dad as being one of the bigger depositors in the bank since the president of the bank knew him. He had no idea that this was a tiny little bank with no more than 10 employees and the president of the bank knew all his depositors by their first name.

The rental agent explained the situation to the bank president. I could see him smile as he held the phone receiver to my dad. “He told me you’re very trustworthy and he wants to talk to you.”

“Hey, how ya doing?” My dad said into the phone. “Yeah we’re out here looking at a school my son is interested in going to.”

They carried on a conversation for a few minutes. Then my dad smiled and handed the receiver back to the rental agent. He thanked the president of the bank for his time and hung up the phone.

“I’m sorry sir,” the rental agent said to my dad. Then he proceeded to write-up the rental agreement. He had verified that we were not from the Dark Side trying to steal one of his cars for interplanetary warfare.

#ThrowbackThursday, This post originally published January 29, 2020.

© 2020, Chris G. Thelen

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