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Passing on gateway to future
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Computers. Smart phones. Tablets. E-readers. iWhatevers. The future bellows to the techno-savvy and I have discovered the one word that will serve as a gateway to it all: passwords.

Passwords are the key to the information era. They give us access to bank accounts, credit cards, bill pay, cell phones, online shopping and even our own home computers.

When I go to my bank, I can't even deposit money without working knowledge of my PIN, which is secret code for password. When I go to pay my daughter's college tuition, I need my university password. I can log onto my kids' accounts at the high school and see their grades as long as I have my (pause for effect) password.

Purchasing tennis shoes on eBay? You'll need your password. Want to read your a newspaper online? Please sign on using your password. Filing your taxes? Password. Paying the phone bill? Password. Checking your bank balance? Email? Chatting with friends on Facebook? Twittering? Better be ready to cough up your password.

In the heyday of my younger years, Password was a game show hosted by Alan Ludden. Because life mimics art, my family used to play Password at the dinner table. It was all very high tech. My mom would whisper a word in my ear and then we'd give clues like "Oreo" to get my dad or sister to guess words like "cookie."

Our passwords were simple: one-word clues for one-word answers. It was a time when terms like computer hacker and identity theft didn't exist, and Alan Ludden's wife was a young gal named Betty White.

Picking a password has become more complex over the years. Now, only a complete password novice would choose a word like cookie. Cookie is not a good password.

There are rules for first-rate passwords. They should be strong. Secure. It's important to choose carefully and wisely - and make sure you include numbers, letters and at least one symbol, such as a plus-sign or ampersand. Your password should be unique. (Just like you.) And long. Like the 1980s.

The very best passwords are convoluted and complex and should make no sense at all to the average computer hacker.

To make matters more convoluted and complex, it is recommended you have a unique password for each password you need. It's no good if you pick the same boring password over and over. Some hacker could easily crack your code and that sort of defeats the whole purpose having a password in the first place, doesn't it? To be a true password warrior, each one of your letter-number-symbol combinations should be an impenetrable fortress of cryptic creativity.

When you are complete, you should have a bevy of password combinations. Dozens and dozens, if you are lucky. Now comes the really tricky part: Do not write them down. Writing your passwords down leaves them vulnerable to bad, bad people (and maybe even your kids). It is best if you memorize each one and keep it in the Fort Knox of your brain. (Lock it up and throw away the key.) That way, if your kids want to download movies from iTunes, they have to ask you first. Security has its perks.

If your memory is like mine, you might find it difficult (impossible) to retain 37 unique, distinctive, strong and secure password combinations. If this is the case, as a last ditch effort to maintain your Amazon account, you could decide to walk on the wild side and write them down, but only if you put them somewhere very safe - like a safe or safety deposit box, which of course requires a password of its own, leaving us with one vexing question: where do you store your password for that?

- Jill Pertler's column appears every Thursday in the Times. She can be reached at