Technology advances by leaps and bounds with each passing year, until what seemed like a miracle in the recent past is boringly commonplace today. Despite that evolution, however, one piece of technology seems not only resistant to change, but downright un-killable: the humble password.
We use passwords to access smartphones and tablets and PCs and ATMs and email and online shopping and social networks. We depend on them to keep us safe from all manner of hackers, casual thieves, snoopy relatives, and other nefarious characters. And while some tech companies have introduced variations on the theme—Google Android, for example, offers the option of tracing a pattern with your finger on a grid, rather than enter an alphanumerical passcode, in order to unlock a mobile device—the fundamentals of inputting numbers and characters into a field remain unchanged.
Even one of the creators of computer passwords is wondering what he helped wrought upon the world. “It’s become kind of a nightmare,” MIT professor emeritus Fernando Corbató told The Wall Street Journal.
Recent hacks of eBay and Target, which potentially released millions of passwords into the wild, have raised the pressure to upgrade or improve upon the password as the default means of securing valuable data. PC and smartphone users compound the problem by creating easy-to-crack passwords for their devices. Take a look at SplashData’s recent list of the 25 most-common passwords from 2013:
SplashData compiled that list from files of stolen passwords posted online. They’re all simple and easy to remember—convenient for whoever holds the account, yes, but also for the hacker seeking a way in.
Despite their weaknesses, it’s unlikely that passwords will go away anytime soon. Apple and other firms have begun making strides in biometrics, such as thumbprint readers, but that technology hasn’t yet reached a saturation point and probably won’t for quite some time. Until something better comes along, the only solution is a poor one: craft the strongest passwords possible, never use the same password for multiple sites, and hope the sites you frequent are never (or at least rarely) hacked.
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