Monday, February 13, 2012

You cannot be serious!

It's getting hard to sign up for anything online these days. IMPOSSIBLE, in fact.

Two or three times in the last week, I've tried to register on a site - and been rebuffed because of inability to come up with a unique username. One was an online golf game (I eventually bitched to their customer service e-mail address about the problems, but they never got back to me), one was a dating site (ahem... I invoke the Pete Townshend Defence: it was for research, honestly!), one was a music site - same story with all of them. All conceivable usernames were taken!

I'm not sure that I believe that. I have four or five aliases that I use fairly regularly online, and I can swap them around with the similar number of passwords I employ (not counting the two numeral-only ones I use for my banks). And some of them are pretty damned unusual. I've never encountered this sort of problem in the past.

Now, guys, please, if you're going to make it this hard to register a username, you at least have to give people some prompts as to what's available. OK, so there are already a dozen Froogs on your site (it seems unlikely to me, but your automated pop-ups insist that it is so); but I assume not all of the numbers from 13 to 100 have been taken - give me a hint!

My cyber-wounds were salted by a run-in over the weekend with the British Chamber of Commerce's website here. Their nice marketing manager had set up an account for me ages ago, to make it easier for me to reserve a spot at speaker events; but I hadn't yet had cause to activate it. When I finally did so, the first thing I was invited to do was to select a new password for myself.

And the nasty, nasty, HAL 9000-like site did not like any of my usual passwords. Nor, indeed, did it like any of the variations I tried on my usual passwords - adding an initial capital, and/or some numbers at the end, and/or an exclamation mark.

Yep, the prompts kept telling me that I should make my password "more secure" by using a mixture of upper and lower case, a mixture of letters and numbers, avoiding actual words, and throwing in some word-breaks or punctuation just for good measure. It appeared that they were determined I should create a password similar to the bizarre default one they'd initially given me, which was the utterly unmemorisable WskPAbmdpi.

Even more galling, the dratted machine seemed to be offering these comments as paternalistic advice for my own good, rather than giving me notice that my proposed password was unacceptable. So, I carried on hopefully pressing 'Enter' in defiance of these irksome pop-ups.... and eventually one of my 'inadequate' passwords was unexpectedly accepted!

Trouble is, after trying about 20 different ones in quick succession, all non-standard variants of my usual repertoire, I can't for the life of me remember what it is.

JES recently led me to this xkcd cartoon, which cogently explains why most computer passwords are dumb: we want words/phrases that are easy to memorise but difficult for a machine to 'guess' by laboriously working through options - rather than vice versa!


John said...

Of all the web forums and accounts I've ever signed up for (and that's a LOT I can tell you, more than ten years on this old Web) I've hardly ever had this problem but then I do have the worst, most embarrassing user-name in existence. It's so bad in fact that I'm not even going to mention it here. You see, all those years ago I was of course younger and in our youth we haven't yet accumulated much knowledge. In fact I stole it (from another ignorant fool?) and genuinely thought it was a pretty cool handle, the idiot I was. I regularly get accused of creating false accounts so as to "troll" people so why not use a brand new one? After all these years I'm not young any more, you really think I'm going to remember it?!
Incidentally I still use the same password too and the same applies, entropy hasn't gotten at it yet though, touch wood...

Froog said...

You don't become 'old' in only 10 years. Not unless you live in China...