Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Friday, January 13, 2006

Battle of the sexes: Passwords

I've guessed quite a few passwords in my time. Back in the day it would be to dig up information on unsuspecting wrongdoers (in my eyes. I'm a vigilante by nature), in the latter days it became more of a personal challenge and I'd dare to say that I had gotten pretty good at it.

Given enough time and wrist exercises to fight off the carpal tunnel, I could pretty much guess anyone's password once you fit the criteria:

1) Known to me for an extended period of time
2) I'm familiar with enough of your close friends
3) I know your likes and dislikes
4) You were female

The last in the list is the most important of all. A warning to all my female friends; I can guess your passwords. All of them.

Why are women singled out? Why am I not as capable of getting into the email accounts and banking systems of my male counterparts? Simple elementary.

Men are from mars, women are from Venus

Whether it's out genetic makeup or just our social upbringing, men and women are completely different creatures. One very obvious 'feature' of this disconnect is the way we handle and present our emotions. For want of better words, woman wear their emotions and feelings like a badge of honor, while men, seemingly unaware of it all, hide it away from the world. This is the single undoing of the fairer sex when it comes to security. The ramifications of having their emotions bubble to the surface go far beyond the unprovoked cry and built-in empathy. Unbeknownst to them, it affects every thought they have, even when those thoughts are seemingly random or incensed by external forces.

For an example, lets imagine your run of the mil male subject signing up for a new email account. He is promoted for a password to keep out the unscrupulous types like myself, but it has to be something that he'll remember even when he's stone drunk. What's a likely candidate? Much like a woman, this password will probably mean something to him, but unlike a woman, it's not very easy to make the connection. His password may be something like 'hailmary'. Why? Because he's a Football fan. In the US, Football, strangely enough, is referred to as Soccer, He finds it strange that their version of football has very little to do with the foot. In fact, a large portion of the game is spent throwing the ball around, he has one keen memory of something called a Hail Mary. He's not completely sure what it is, but he's pretty sure that's the name.

That's his connection to the password and it's not one he'll soon forget. Another male subject will have completely different stimuli, a completely different method of connection the dots and basically another password that's impossible to guess.

Enter his female counterpart. She's signing up for the same service and she's now arrived at the password prompt. What's her stimuli? This is where our differences shine through. Most often than not, women choose passwords that are in some way directly related to them emotionally. Names are very popular, but not their own name of course. It'll be the name of the ex-boyfriend from high school, or a religious reference if they are the god fearing type. Time after time I've found that there is little or no effort put into the thought process. What should be a fairly well thought out and hard to guess code, ends up being a very direct reference to their life. I'm not a doctor, but I'm inclined to believe that this is a direct result of the well of emotions that women walk around with every day. Of course, the password is impossible to guess unless you know our subject, and that's what criteria 1 - 3 covers. Once someone fits the mold, it's almost a certainty that you can get in their heads.

Try this social experiment for yourself. You may be surprised at what you find.