V V Ravi Kumar: Please enter your passwords

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 01, 2012 19:53 hrs

In today’s internet age, organisations are promoting their websites like never before. In order to reduce costs and make customers co-producers of their services, they want everyone to transact online. Whether it is cinema, airline or railway ticketing, online banking, shopping or bills, insurance premium or credit card payments, accessing mutual fund account online or just checking emails, it is compulsory to register and log in, using a user-id (identifier) and a password. This is merely an indicative list. There are more passwords for intranet, organisational websites, and so on. One can go on listing the umpteen services for which login-ids and passwords are required. What started as a trickle has now turned into a flood, so that a person is now forced to remember multiple passwords. In fact, this trend is slowly becoming a sort of a menace.

In addition to the usual login password, another layer of passwords, called transaction passwords, has been added. These provide better security for your transactions. Only after entering this password are you allowed to transact online. Besides, to beef up security for the money-based transactions, OTPs (one-time passwords) have been introduced. Note that all these are in addition to the PIN (personal identification number), which you are expected to remember for making transactions at ATMs. For mobile banking, you need to set a password to access the handset menu on the mobile.

Now, let’s look at the list of commandments that has to be kept in mind while making online transactions. Do not share your password with anyone; do not keep your name or nickname or names of your dear ones or your phone numbers, address or important event dates like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, as passwords. Create complicated passwords that nobody can imagine. Change your passwords at least once a month. Do not write down your password anywhere, since anybody can misuse it to make unauthorised transactions. If you access your computer from a cyber cafe or any other shared computer, change your password as soon as you start operating on your secured computer. If you have more than one internet banking user-id, use a different password for each.

All these steps are designed to make our online transactions secure.

The problem is that with multiple bank accounts, at least two to three credit cards, three to four insurance premium payments, a few ongoing ticketing requirements for transport and cinema, and online purchasing, in addition to the regular daily checking of email accounts, how is one to remember all these passwords? The service providers simply ask customers to memorise all these passwords.

There is now a genuine problem of remembering all these user-ids and passwords. “No problem,” say service providers, “we have the ‘Forgot your Password’ option. Click on it to retrieve your password. But once you login, please change your password for your own safety.” So, you are back to square one.

As online transactions keep increasing by the day, you cannot escape the reality of multiple user-ids and passwords. So, you now have to live with a plethora of user-ids and passwords, and try to perfect the art of remembering these. You may try eating almonds and greens to boost your memory. Just as the “one nation, one entrance test” is being debated hotly in India, is there a possibility of one user, one password? Or, is it too risky? Is there a better solution to this problem? Let us ponder the possible solutions to tackle this ever-growing problem of memorising a large set of user-ids and passwords.

I sign off here because I need to pay my electricity bill online. I hope I remember the password.

The writer is Assistant Professor at Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bangalore

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