Monday, December 8, 2008

Passwords and the Aging Process

I am clearly aging. When I started working at my present job in 1987, our department had no computers at all, and, therefore, no password-protected security. Back in those days, I had no problem learning and recalling strings of numbers (credit card numbers, ID numbers, etc.) and adjusted quickly when a number changed. I chortled when the professors balked.

Security in those days depended much less on technology. When I started, the three keys I carried (office, clinic, outside door) provided all of the security the department needed. There were no electronic strips in name badges, no passwords, and none of the ubiquitous cameras. A few doors had punch-button codes that everyone knew. The most secure areas on campus could be accessed by calling a friend and being "buzzed" through a door.

Security has changed; many systems now require passwords. For example, to get to the first screen of our new medical record system, I sometimes need to log in three separate times using two different log in/password combinations. Every important website I visit requires a different password. And, of course, just when I finally get them all in sync, a screen pops up that requires me to change one of them. I currently carry a list of over 70 log in/password combinations. Too often, I forget to write down a new password and get locked out after making too many attempts to access a site.

Fortunately for me, one bit of security has never changed. When I walk into the operating room dressing area to prepare for surgery, the lock on my OR locker is the same one that I used in high school gym class from 1968 to 1972. The lock still works fine. And, best of all, I can remember the combination.

I know I am getting older. I can no longer remember new log in/password combinations when they crop up. I write them down and hope I can find my list when I need it.

But, the day I can not get into my OR locker because I can't remember the combination will be different. That event will be mark the day when I realize it is time to call it quits.


rlbates said...

I remember the phone number we had as I was growing up, but I can't seem to remember my mother's new phone number from when she moved a few years back. I think it may be (at least I hope) because I programed it into my phones and never really tried to learn it.

mudphudder said...

Passwords, in particular, choosing ones longer than 8 characters with a mix of numbers and letters and then changing them every 6 months are the bane of my existence.

In all seriousness though, this can't possibly be efficient or even safe. I still have a manageable number of passwords to keep track of, but I know some higher-level people who have so many passwords to remember, they have to write them down and post them right next to their desks in their offices. Having seen the length of some of those lists, I can't say that I blame them, but that can't possibly be safe--for the owner of the passwords or patients.

I don't think the problem is that you're getting older, I think to the system has become too complicated. This is problem that many people have complained about, at least at our hospital, and knowing some of the IT guys--I suspect that this will be better addressed in the next few years. Hopefully before someone's list of passwords gets lost or stolen...

Bruce said...

I suspect a retina scan will work someday, assuming I don't get a cataract first...