Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Logins and Passwords -- The bane of genealogists
I recently spent another session ostensibly teaching genealogy skills and ending up using almost the whole time helping people who had trouble with their logins and passwords. In one case, we had to abandon using the person's computer entirely because the programs we needed were double pass-protected and the person could not access her email account.
Granted, passwords and logins play an important part in computer security and those users with some degree of experience have either a password organization program or some other method of managing their passwords. However, less experienced or casual users seldom think through the process of getting on to their various devices and rely on the device remembering all of the logins and passwords via Google or some other program. They are immediately stopped when they bring their device to a library or other location. The problems I encountered were due to both forgetting a login and password and needing to respond to a two-stage pass-protection that sent a key to an email account that wasn't available. None of these problems were earth-shatteringly difficult, but they did stop the person from receiving the help they needed with their genealogical database programs.
I am also finding that some people give up trying to do anything with genealogy because they can't get into their machines. I have to admit that my own list of passwords finally got out of hand and I needed to restructure the way I kept my accounts but they are back under control and less annoying.
The news regularly tells of some large organizations being hacked and millions of passwords being compromised. Because of this, some organizations require a regular change of passwords. Of course, this challenges the memories of some of us and we have to adapt by using a pattern of passwords. It is also surprising how few people avail themselves of a piece of paper and a pencil or a printer to keep a list of passwords. This form of keeping track of information has been around a long time and is obviously impervious to online attacks. I use the paper method, but I also keep the information in my own private code so that a casual look at the paper will not give anyone the complete password. I also change some passwords frequently.
What about commercial password protection programs? Well, you still have to remember your password to the password program and you still have to manage the list as passwords are updated but, for some, it is a good solution. If a patron at the Brigham Young University Family History Library cannot remember his or her password to a commonly used website such as FamilySearch.org, then I know something about the patron's level of involvement with family history online. However, this insight isn't conclusive since they may work only on their home computer and all the passwords are kept in the computer's memory and not the patron's memory.
One way to help remember passwords is to use a passphrase. That is a sentence about something you like or do. Unfortunately, passphrases are not popular because they can easily exceed the number of characters allowed by the particular website but they are helpful for some people.
My most common rule is that when you first enter your password, write it down and remember to be aware of your passwords before you come to the Library for help with your genealogy.