How many pass-codes do you have to memorise?

Some twenty-eight years ago, while four digit "Personal Identification Numbers" were new, I remember there being some concern about whether people would be able to remember them. Certainly I used to carry a note of the number of my first chip and PIN card, carefully disguised so that a person who found it would not realise what it was.

The other day I tried to come up with a count of how many passcodes, identification numbers, and passwords I have had to memorise for regular daily use - first the ones I use sufficiently frequently that I have actually memorised them, and then the ones which I still have to write down. The first frightening thing is how many there are, and the second frightening thing is that this number of codes is probably not at all unusual for a person in a white collar or management job.

Between work, bank details, and other important systems, I have successfully memorised the following eleven identifiers

* Three PIN codes with four digits

* Two PIN codes with eight digits

* One numerical identifier with nine digits

* Five passwords consisting of combinations of letters and numbers.

One of two of these, of particular importance, have to be changed and re-memorised every few months. Several of them are part of a multiple-check system, e.g. they can only be used in combination with a particular item.

In addition to this, there are another six numbers and codes of significant importance which I regularly need to use but can get away with writing down or letting computers remember for me.

Of those seventeen codes and identifiers, I think I have used at least nine so far today, an average of twice each, and what's more that is probably signficantly lower than my normal weekday average use of these codes.

I doubt if this is terribly unusual among people doing management, professional or other white collar roles in Britain today.

It is nothing short of  amazing what the human brain can do, and come to do without even thinking about it. Indeed, if I did have to stop and think when using Chip and Pin to buy something, using the security checks which I routinely have to complete to get into the building where I work, or log onto any of the computer systems I use, it would probably be far harder.

If you'd told me back in 1984 that in less than thirty years I would routinely expect to have to use nearly twenty codes and identifiers, many of them much more complex than four digits, I'd probably have been horrified. Fortunately the increased number of codes and security checks has increased gradually over that time so it has been possible to acclimatise to it.

I don't see things getting easier any time soon, as increasing threats of cyber-crime will mean that we have to be ever more cautious. Perhaps in my children's lifetime, reliable and secure DNA readers will make it possible to instantly prove who they are without having to memorise large numbers of security codes. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

I'd be interested to hear from any reader of this blog how easy or oppressive they find coping with all the numbers and codes they have to memorise.


Jim said…
I dont find it too bad to be honest. The simplest way to remember them is to use a memory peg type system. So for numbers you would have a list thats easy to associate. for example:
1-gun , 2-shoe, 3-tree, 4-door, 5-hive, 6-bricks, 7-heaven (why does everyone use heaven for that one) 8-gate, 9-wine, 0-hero.

simply make a little story to rember a number. So if it was 1234. I put a gun inside my shoe then climb a tree to reach a door.
now picture this as 2 pictures from a comic strip.

The first placing a gun inside your shoe, the second is a tree leading to a high up door.

you can of course change the order, so 2143, load a shoe into a gun, go through a door to see a tree. - again use the comic strip to picture those two images.
Jim said…
So now i can add a comic picture of a bank before the first picture or as part of the second.

so I put a gun in my shoe, climb a tree to reach the door to the bank, in order to rob it. That would be say a bank pin. if it was a work one then its the door to the office. Does not matter how you do it so long as you have the picture.

This system works for all sorts of other things to, like remembering a list, or even a fact.

so for a list, lets say im going to town and i need to buy eggs, milk, bread, sugar, bacon, cornflakes, coffee, washing powder, bananas & toothpaste

so picture eggs being fired from a gun, once you have the pic move on,

then picture a pint of milk being poured into a shoe. once you see it move on

Now bread growing from a tree.
a bag of sugar nailed to a door
bacon on a bee hive
a box of cornflakes built into a brick wall
drinking coffee on a cloud in heaven
washing powder nailed to a garden gate
bananas in a wine glass
a tube of toothpaste being protected from gun fire by superman.

the thing is if you did create those images you can now walk away from the post and recite my list a few hours later, even next day, and you can also name the items from the list in any order. so whats item seven? well its heaven and there i am drinking coffee on a cloud. so its coffee.

rember to use your own pegs, as you will know these better, also you can be as raunchy and as un P.C. as you like, its only in your head so wont offend anyone, and is often more vivid and you wont forget it.

let me show you, you may or may not know a car battery is 12V DC. Now i want you to picture David Cameron with a car battery wired to his butt, making love to an elf.

now i garantee you will never forget that a car battery is 12V DC
Jim said…
just to show that this works, and prove it.

Its now been over 24 hours since I invented my imaginary shopping list. I did not save it & at the time of writing this comment you have not published it. (I realise you only have my word that i did not save a copy, but its true i did not)
however i can tell you that the shopping list should be:
1, Eggs
2, Milk
3, Bread
4, Sugar
5, Bacon
6, Conflakes
7, Coffee
8, washing powder
9, Bananas
10 Toothpaste

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