The news item said that German prosecutors had confiscated €50-million worth of #Bitcoin from a fraudster but they couldn’t unlock the money without the #password. The fraudster served his jail sentence without giving up the code.
I wondered, did they try torturing him with a middle-aged mom like me, repeatedly asking “what the hell is Bitcoin, anyway?” And did those German prosecutors try typing in Scruffy1234? Or Mitsy1963?
To be fair to the Germans, #passwords are the bane of my existence, too. I used to have maybe six password-protected programs or accounts and what-not. It was all quite easy to manage. I used the same password for all six of them. But then the six turned into 66 and I now have a digital keychain thingy to retrieve a password if I can’t remember it. Like the clever, possibly wine-inspired one I came up with when I registered on a weird cosmetics site from England a few nights ago. Trouble is, I can’t remember how to access the keychain.
It all seems so charming now when I think of how I used to just pick a street name from my childhood and join it up with my old telephone number from when I lived in Saskatchewan. I have no idea why that number has stuck in my mind to this day. Perhaps in the 1970s, being the good teenager that I was, I dialed home a lot for a ride or permission to do something. Now, I can’t remember my own children’s phone numbers because I just click their name on my cellphone’s “recent calls” screen and voila … they don’t answer.
My passwords have gone through nostalgic stages; I’ve used names of rock bands and their peak decades, nicknames I gave my kids or things I was looking at in the moment when I needed to come up with one. Characters from novels, songs from movies and exotic cities I’d like to visit have also weaved a romantic path through my rock-solid security codes. And of course, these words are intertwined with important dates and a symbol such as the dollar sign or number sign, etc. The ampersand is reserved for my most important security efforts.
Somewhere along the line, I began to tunnel down through a list of my childhood pets. Our father, who was an accomplished writer, gave us the gift of password gold without knowing it, through the interesting stream of characters he drew from when it came to naming our pets. Our beloved wiener #dog went by the extended moniker Herr Geheimrat Erich Vittlesback Von Stroheim, an homage to the acclaimed Austrian film director. Our series of cats were named after 20th-century literary greats, an Oscar-winning French actor and an obscure 1950s chanteuse who went by the name … well, I can’t reveal it as I’m currently using her name for a very important account.
Luckily, we had quite a few #family #pets growing up. There was also the rooster and four #chickens we inherited when we rented an orchard #home in Summerland, B.C. Chanticleer ruled over Eenie, Meenie, Minie and Moe in the backyard of our home on Cherry Blossom Lane. In case you are thinking about it, I put those passwords out to pasture a long time ago. Also, there is no Cherry Blossom Lane per se; our Dad just called our street that because it sounded better than the official name.
That elusive password issue must be universal as all website login boxes I’ve seen have that generous lifeline in blue-coloured words: “Forgot your Password?” and the blessed option to just click it and go through the motions of creating yet another one. But eventually, you’ll run out of dead pets. Trust me.
It’s sage advice that you should change your passwords frequently, especially on #socialmedia sites. But lately, I’ve been wondering, “what’s the point?” These sites already know what I’m thinking or quietly mumbling in my sleep. They seem to know I need a new mattress, and that I wondered to myself who that singer was on Saturday Night Live last weekend, and that I thought I saw Diane from yoga in the distance this morning on my neighborhood walk. Those pop-up ads and #Facebook friend suggestions can’t be purely coincidental – or can they? Surely they must be able to reach into my mind and fish out my recent passwords. By “they” I mean the people in the giant supercomputer warehouse in Silicon Valley (is it still called that?) who stand at modern desks and look into our minds displayed on their holographic screens. They likely get paid in Bitcoin.
This brings me back to the Bitcoin thing. From what I understand, and I could be wrong, the word was invented by a dude who made it up one night after watching a movie he downloaded from a BitTorrent site. It is a bit like coins which are old-fashioned monetary trinkets made of metal from a system of commerce dating back to the Iron Age.
But you can’t really hold Bitcoins in your hand or find them in the back of the couch or feed them into a pay phone. They exist only in your mind. They’re hard to retrieve. And you have to be really on the ball with your password if you have some Bitcoins floating around on lines of code on the internet. Maybe that Bitcoin fraudster forgot his password and he’s just embarrassed about it. He may need to access his keychain once he gets back to his home computer. Or if he’s like me, dig out the piece of paper he stashed under the hallway table with his passwords handwritten in ink.
By the way, I think keychain is an old-timey term that soon will be a distant memory just like that rotary dial #phone from my childhood, the one with the phone number I’ll likely remember the rest of my life.
CHARLOTTE PHILLIPS – Charlotte Phillips lives in White Rock, B.C.
CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED MARCH 4, 2021