Late last night, when I thought I was all alone at work, a ghostly email balloon popped up on my monitor.
“Hey, change your F*&k1ng password,” it demanded.
Did it really read F*&k1ng?
I checked my email. It certainly did. How unprofessional I thought.
You see, the character string “F*&k1ng” actually was my password and being very unprofessionally sent in clear text in the body of an email message, I was forced to change it.
Thank you Ms Hu, evil empress of security.
I remember happier times before the reign of Ms. Hu when no one nagged us about such things. But those days ended when some basement dweller hacked into our network and decorated our popular website with some unpopular images.
Our management responded to the hacking the same way a barn full of turkeys responds to a thunder storm. They formed a pile for protection. In other words, they hid in a meeting room for two weeks.
Finally, they called a compulsory assembly of the entire staff to formally introduce us to Ms. Hu.
We had been seeing her for a week, flitting about, seemingly everywhere at once. She would pop into someone’s cube, commandeer their keyboard and do things no one understood. Still, everyone had instructions to give her our utmost cooperation.
After a few perfunctory words of greeting, Amy Hu went after the staff like a hungry crow in a bait shop.
“You,” she shrieked at a startled business analyst, “your password is ‘password’. Who you think you fooling? Huh?”
“And you,” she said confronting a secretary, ‘123456’ won’t cut it!”
Continuing down the line she said, “And this little monkey used ‘monkey’ to access our systems. You think that cute?”
She explained how a tenth of all computer users employ one of a very short list of common passwords. By walking around the shop and running down the list on each machine she demonstrated how the hackers broke into our system.
“Now we go to the next problem,” she said, “short, stupid passwords.” With utter disdain, she called out, “We start with shortest and stupidest of all; who is Cat?”
The staff traded exaggerated looks of innocence.
This only provoked Ms. Hu, who stamped her foot in rage. “C’mon you coward. You know who you are.”
I meekly raised a hand.
She perched on the chair in front of me.
“Why cat?” she asked.
“It’s the name of my cat,” I told her.
“How long you had cat?”
“Which? The pet or the password,” I asked.
“Six years go by and you never change your password nor name your cat?”
“I suppose it is,” I mumbled because I didn’t have the courage to admit that using such a dark personal secret was the most secure thing I could think of.”
“You change your password now, lazy man.”
“What should I change it to?”
The question shocked her. “You see all these people?” she asked, covering the crowd with a sweeping gesture, “they all have the same question.” Then she aimed a sharp fingernail at my nose, “You wait your turn, lazy boy.”
Our director intervened to bring up the next agenda item. Our new security standard.
Henceforth all passwords had to be longer than six characters and contain no fewer than one alpha, one numeric and one special character.
Amy regarded him with patient annoyance for a few moments then rattled a sheath of pages torn from a small notebook.
“I reset everyone’s password,” she announced, “here are your new ones. Change them immediately.”
She circled the room handing out sheets until she fixed me in her gaze the way a hawk eyes a mouse.
“This one perfect password for you,” she said.
I opened the note. It read ‘#1LazyMan’.
In full compliance with the new departmental standards, I changed my password. Now a month later, I get the nastygram from Amy ordering me to change it again.
So here is my new password ‘Scr&w_u2_Hu’.
But keep that just between us, okay?