One thing I will ever remember about my grandfather is the bunch of keys he used to keep in his hip tucked in the dhoti. I was brought up among 12 members in a joint family and all of us were free from such a bother. He used to keep the keys under his pillow at night. I was the only person to whom he gave the key to open the cash box or fetch an account from his almirah.

Today, there is no bunch of keys and goddess Lakshmi dwells in bank lockers. One front door key is the order of the day.

We cannot be happy the way we have shed the heavy load. The password, soft version of the keys, is here to stay. It has no physical form and occupies a good part of our memory. Well, you can note it down, but if it reaches unsafe hands everything is finished. It will be a treasure trove for the evil and the needy.

We, probably, have to keep 10 times as many passwords in our head as we did 10 years ago, said Jeff Moss, who founded a popular hacking conference. Mail passwords, ATM, PINs and Internet passwords — it is so hard to remember and keep track of all of them. The security of the password need not be overemphasised with increasing thefts and frauds on the Internet. Creating passwords and file names are the arts everyone should master in the present yuga. Those of us who are thrust upon a computer in our mid-40s and 50s with an adequate dose of short memory are the less skilled and soft targets for hackers.

A study by a company that makes the security software for users examined a list of 32 million passwords that an unknown hacker stole from users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace.

The study found that one per cent of the users used passwords 123456, 123abc, etc., and 20 per cent picked passwords from a small pool of 5,000 words which are easily susceptible. The hackers could easily guess from the small window of words used as the password and access the accounts with the support of software. Some of us create passwords like “iddli 1”, “iddli 2” as we believe that iddli is not a universal word and chances of stealing this word are remote. Often we have trouble remembering whether we put ‘I' or ‘y' as the last letter. They could have as well used the word ‘hack me' says a write-up in New York Times. Using names of close relatives is also vulnerable as known persons can guess them easily.

Today, everyone is keeping a bank account with an ATM card. Many write the PIN in the space provided for signature, and this is an open invitation to thieves.

Cryptography schemes have existed for thousands of years, and attempts to break coding schemes are almost as old. A “code breaker” or the present day hacker seeks to detect patterns in the encrypted messages that will lead to sufficient understanding of the encryption scheme to enable the discovery of a decryption method. Do we need to be a cryptographer or do we need to use a Hagelin machine to write a password? Many websites talk about strong and weak passwords. An ideal password is long and has letters, punctuation, symbols, and numbers. Microsoft suggests using at least 14 characters or more in a password. The greater the variety of characters, the better. The use of the entire keyboard — not just a few familiar characters such as @, #, $ — is good enough. Further tips about passwords can be had from: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/ fraud/passwords/ create.aspx

No doubt, long passwords are hard to remember. All of us have to pick up some mnemonic techniques to remember the gamut of passwords we have to remember for sustenance. Music mnemonic is the art of remembering words built into jingles. This is how children are taught the alphabet. Name mnemonic enables us to remember the words by correlation with standard phrases and names. For analogy the word “vib” can be remembered as the first three letters of the colour scheme of the rainbow, “vibgyor.” This reminds me of the phrase, ‘All Students Take Coffee,' which our trigonometry professor asked us to memorise to remember the signs in four quadrants.

(The writer's email is: srisln@gmail.com)