Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Passwords? We don't need no stinkin' passwords!

I put a check for this month's auto insurance payment in the mail yesterday.

Now there's a declarative sentence that should be rejected as too banal even for Twitter -- but it's the reason why I put the darn thing in the mail (late) that provokes this post.

You see, I have tried to pay this monthly bill online from time to time. There are always problems.

First of all, this site has assigned me a different username than what I use on the myriad of other bill-paying sites I have occasion to visit. I think. I can't be sure. I can't be sure because the site has become even more oppressive than most: Three unsuccessful log-in attempts and an invisible electronic curtain descends. The would-be user is locked out.

With the three strikes and you're out lockdown system, I have almost no hope of remembering the right username and password combination in time. I suppose I could write all the different site usernames and passwords down... BUT THAT WOULD DEFEAT THE PURPOSE, WOULDN'T IT?

Sorry for shouting. It just makes me so crazy.

On this site, when I realize I'm locked out, I have to email customer service for help. Within a day or two they will send me an email telling me there are two separate emails awaiting me on a separate, protected site, giving me a "temporary" password I can use to access the two emails.

Why two? The first will tell me my username. The second will give me yet another temporary password which I must reset on first use of the site I wanted to get to some days earlier -- you know... for paying the bill, the one which by now is certainly late? Armed with this information, I go back to the site and log in.

I am required to choose a new password. Now this site does not allow me to use the combination of letters and numbers I use elsewhere. Too many characters for this site. So I must improvise. Yet, invariably -- invariably, I say -- I choose exactly the password I couldn't remember in the first place.

At least, that's what the site tells me -- when it refuses to accept the proposed password. Cannot use existing password, it says. So I vary it again. Now I've chosen the password I will forget next month -- when I will again get locked out, send the emails, navigate the secure site and log in on my latest temporary password. Then I'll enter this month's password... and be required to choose the password I'd forgotten the month before.

So, yesterday, I broke the cycle. I sent a paper check. It's still late. But it's sooooooo much easier.

But let's just think about this problem for a millisecond, shall we? Let's analyze it. This is what computer programmers are supposed to do, right?

I am attempting to access a site to pay a bill. There's very little I could buy on this site, and though I suppose I could change policy information, dropping or adding cars or something, these options could very easily be cordoned off behind a password screen.

But why in the blazes do I need a password to pay a bill?

Is there a real danger that some person desirous of stealing my identity will log on to my many, many bills and pay them?

Heck no.

I may earnestly pray that such a person exists -- but I know, deep down inside, in that secret place that still yearns for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, that there is no such person. Why don't the goofs who design these sites also know this? Why do they design sites that provide such a vigorous defense against this non-existent phantom?

Can someone provide me an explanation?


Going Like Sixty said...

In answer to your rhetorical question, because I am a true rebel that way...

It's because CEO's of banks and insurance companies and medical sites are just scared shitless of technology.

And their lawyers keep them that way. And their IT people keep them that way.

They are incapable of independent thinking.

BTW: CAPTCHA's are useless to stop spam. But Google hasn't figured that out yet.

Going Like Sixty said...

Thank you for turning off word verification. I am struggling more and more with them!

Barb said...

Here's my explanation:

Because they can. :)

Dave said...

"One size fits all" mentality.