Friday, 04 February 2005
Freudian slip
n: a slip-up that (according to Sigmund Freud) results from the operation of unconscious wishes or conflicts and can reveal unconscious processes in normal healthy individuals

I recently started using passphrases instead of passwords for my various computer accounts. So far I have found only one place where it just doesn't work.

I'm calling it a success so far.

Using something akin to natural English - complete with with spaces, punctuation and natural capitalization - makes passphrases very easy to remember and (despite their longer length) often easier to type than convoluted "strong" passwords.

But something funny happened to me on the way to my computer the other day, when I was playing with test passphrases in preparation for making the Big Change. I've discovered that passphrases may tell more about the person using them than one might realize.

Let's say, for example, I choose a passphrase (and this is very hypothetical) like:

How the heck did you do that Dude?

It's easy to type because it's just a sentence, easy to remember because it's conversational, secure because it's long and complex. Obviously, moving away from a simple plain-language phrase like the example above can be strengthened further by throwing in non-natural characters, phrase structure, etc., just like with passwords.

But I digress... In my hypothetical example passphrase above, what do you imagine would cause me to keep typing the passphrase incorrectly?

As it turns out, there's a tendency to think not about the exact wording, but instead about what the phrase communicates. So, in the above example there are two words I might keep screwing up.

The first problematic word is "that." The tendency here is to type "this" instead of "that," as in "How the heck did you do this Dude?" or "This is a really cool thing you're doing." Natural human speech tendency.

The second problematic word is a little more colorful (and Freudian) in its psychological adaptation. Take the word "heck" and figure out how many similar words a person might use. Depending on mood (which seems to be a real factor affecting outcome in my case, heheh), the person typing the passphrase might type "hell" in place of "heck." It has the same two first letters, and so it's a natural tendency. But take the word "heck," apply some life or personal stress, and then take a look at the last two letters of the word, and I'll leave it up to you to come up with another four-word replacement that shares those last two characters, and also fits into the passphrase (conversationally and in a rude kind of way).

You get the idea. Anyhow, I only locked myself out of that test account once.

Freud would probably be proud. But hey, that figures - he was a drug addict and a freak.

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Friday, 04 February 2005 09:05:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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