The last time I tried to book tickets online I couldn’t. Not because my credit card was a dud bit of plastic but because, for the life of me, I could not remember the password I had used. While not being able to buy a movie ticket is not going to cause me serious financial harm, forgetting the password to my online bank account or my online share trading account may be more disastrous. Though some entities may provide you with an electronic password devices that throws up passwords, it will be relevant to only that particular service.
Of course, having a password that anybody who knows you can guess and crack (the most common password being the name of your partner or child) is more harmful than a forgotten password. That you can resurrect by mailing the service provider, but it does cost you time.
With millions using the Net for some form of online financial transaction such as shopping, paying bills, banking, money transfer or investing— and this number growing by the year—the importance of the tiny alphanumeric key to your money in bits and bytes cannot be emphasized enough. But each time that irritating message flashes across the screen (“you have seven days to change your password”), you want to scream in frustration. Where is that password going to come from and how are you going to remember it?
So the questions around passwords are: should you have one password for all your accounts or is it safer to have different ones? The former is a security risk, the latter a memory nightmare. Where should you store the passwords? Storing them is a risk. A colleague had saved all her passwords in her cellphone. When she replaced her handset, she forget to delete the list of passwords. Luckily for her she remembered it in time, but had to change the passwords for all her accounts.
Illustration: Shyamal Banerjee / Mint
Is there a smart way of choosing, storing and remembering passwords? Money Matters spoke to some professionals from sectors requiring extensive use of passwords and the verdict was: there isn’t one solution that fits all. Managing passwords remains a battle and there are only a handful of tips to tackle it. But if you have cracked the password problem, do mail us the methodology used.
How many are enough
Using many passwords and then storing them in a place with one password so that you have to remember only one, is a technique that many use. Says Sumeet Vaid, founding managing director, Ffreedom Financial Planners: “I use a BlackBerry which has a password manager. I put all my passwords there and the file itself is password-protected. All phones generally have this facility.” So by remembering one password, you can keep all your passwords and other important data safe. Another preferred strategy is to use two or three and rotate them. Says B. Srinivasan, a Bangalore-based certified financial planner: “It is advisable to keep a minimum number of passwords for all applications and keep rotating same passwords among different applications.” This in a way can be helpful as you just need to remember a few passwords, and even if you forget which one you are using currently, you can key in the other that you often use.
How to choose
Choosing a password that’s an easy guess is the most dangerous thing you can do. Your partner’s name, your own name and date of birth, your child’s name are the most obvious passwords. “It shouldn’t be your kid’s name or dog’s name because they can be hacked. People around you may have a clue,” says Vinay Goel, country head—products, Google India. Most of us use a core group of passwords that have something to do with our lives. The key is to choose them in a manner so that it is easy for you to recollect, but difficult for others to guess. We turned to a scientist to know if there is a scientific way to do this. “You can select two or three short names and birth dates of your dear ones and come up with several combinations,” says N. Balakrishnan, associate director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. You can also use the name of a famous painting that you like very much. Or a piece of music—Monalisa, beethoven9 or even 1942alovestory. Or it could be the title of a band you like. For example, linkinpark, greenday, abbawere4.
Another way would be to use a totally random idea, such as the name of a locality other than where you live but one you can readily recall for some reason. For example, you could live in Mayur Vihar but choose a password b123sainienclave. And then rotate the variables: sainienclave123b or 123bsainienclave and so on.
How to store
But the problem doesn’t end here. With a plethora of financial services at your disposal, you need to remember different kinds of passwords—numeric, alphanumeric, 16-lettered and more. Managing them sometimes defeats the efficiency dividend we seek by moving digital.
“If the number of passwords increases, then one can segregate passwords which have financial implications and those that do not. Then, list all the less sensitive passwords, (those with no link to financial matters) into an Excel sheet and store them, which is again password-protected. Limit the number of passwords related to financial issues to the very minimal and remember them,” says Srinivasan. But do remember to back up your hard disk, else a crash will leave you totally helpless.
One route that is still controversial is storing your passwords online. “There are certain free softwares available wherein one can store any number of passwords and all they have to remember is the password to this software only,” says Srinivasan. But choosing the correct online password manager can be tough. “There are many online applications that help you manage your password. If you search online you get many of them. Though they are fairly safe, make sure you are dealing with registered companies,” says Goel.
But what we found, after all the talk, is that the best way still is to use the mind. Choose a smart set of passwords and memorize it.