Joco Opinion

Matt Keenan — These online questions provide no sense of security

The biggest lie ever told was by the person who claimed technology was going to simplify our lives. That guy never had to change his security code every three months and be denied the right to use 123456 and abc123 as passwords. That pointy-headed know-it-all never had to read a word off a website written in a blurry twisted angle and then retype it to buy tickets to Sesame Street Live. No doubt he’s a 22-year-old who wears an earpiece, drives a Subaru and watches MTV. He’s never folded a map or used the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Technology was supposed to make things better, right? Then someone explain what is now the biggest epidemic: security questions. Follow me here. I had logged into my 529 site to pay my son’s college tuition, so my mood wasn’t pleasant to begin with. Plus I was in a hurry. I was late leaving from work.

I guessed my name and password. But then the site told me they were upgrading the security and I needed to complete security answers. Thirty minutes later I was on the verge of throwing my laptop against the wall.

The idea, one might think, is relatively defensible. You have three sets of questions to choose from, and then answer them as they are correct to you. But since it’s a joint account, I need answers that my wife would know, too. And instead of asking something simple like “what’s your name?” the exercise was decidedly preposterous.

Here were two of the first four questions: “Your childhood best friend’s first name?” And, “Your current best friend’s first name?” Generally speaking when I’m trying to retrieve information from a website that has my money I don’t like a computer asking me questions. Isn’t that what HAL did in “2001 A Space Odyssey”? And asking about best friends 45 years ago doesn’t improve my mood much.

After thinking about it and choosing the name John, I had to type the answer twice — which wouldn’t seem difficult except the letters were replaced with asterisks — something called “masked passwords.” So you type but can’t see the letters. This may shock the nerd-guy who creates these rules but when you can’t see what you are typing mistakes happen. And when mistakes happen I get mad. And when I get mad I write columns.

I finished and got this message: “Security answers must be at least six characters.” News flash. In 1964 everyone’s name was short — Gus, Joe, Tom, Kurt, Bill, Alan, Marty, Tim. Nobody on the planet had names like Hunter or Jeremiah or Alexis.

I came up with something and moved on.

The next round included questions like, ‘What hospital were you born?” followed by, “In what city did you honeymoon?” The last set of questions asked me, “Who is your favorite athlete?”

And, “What’s your favorite hobby?” Who has time for a hobby when you have to answer stupid questions like this? By now I was just picking one and typing things like “who knows,” “who cares” “get me out of here.”

I clicked on “enter” and got this message: “Your second security answer and the retype of your second security answer do not match. Please retry.”

So I have a solution. Fire nerd guy and let me come up with the questions for people like me who can’t remember what we did last week, not to mention a honeymoon that was 26 years ago. Here they are:

• Where were you when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon?

• Where were you when President Reagan was shot?

• Where is the nearest pharmacy to your house?

• What day is the senior discount at the grocery store?

• Where is the comfort shoe store?

• What theaters have matinees?

• Why haven’t your children had grandchildren yet?

• When was your last bowel movement?

Bill Gates — call me on the landline.