Last updateFri, 29 May 2020 10am

Explaining passwords

A password is a sequence of characters used by computer users to verify their identity, or to control who has access to things such as email, bank accounts, etc.

Surely everyone who has ever put their fingers on a keyboard understands that much, but there are so many passwords in our lives and so many different places they are needed that confusion naturally follows.  This week I am going to attempt to disambiguate the passwords most readers are likely to encounter.

Despite the name, a password does not need to be an actual word and are much more secure if they are not real words that might be found in a dictionary. Passwords that are exposed to the internet (email, online banking) need to be as secure as possible, while other passwords I am about to describe do not necessarily need to be as secure. Let us begin with starting up the computer:

Some users have their computer or tablet configured to require a user password to access the system.  The only purpose of this password is to prevent casual access to your computer, such as if you want to try to keep your maid from surfing the internet on your time and on your computer. This password to start the computer provides no other protection and an experienced technician like myself can usually circumvent that password in a matter of minutes.

If you have an email account, you have another password completely unrelated to the password you use to start your computer.  Your email password might have been saved in your computer years ago and maybe you forgot you even had one, but rest assured you must have a password to access your email.  If you have forgotten your email password you should absolutely make it priority to learn what it is, and do that today.

If you connect your computer or other device to the internet wirelessly then you might have yet another password unrelated to the preceding two.  This one is properly called a wireless key and is needed to connect your laptop to the wireless access point so you may access the internet. This password is not to be confused with a WEP key or WET key that provide the protection of secure encryption of your wireless connection.  And none of the above are to be confused with the paywall key used by the wireless at your favorite coffee shop.  The key required to access the internet at public hotspots usually provides no security or encryption for your communications, it only proves you paid for a cup of coffee.

If there is a wireless router in your home or office then you have still another password different from and completely unrelated to all of the above.  This password is required to access the configuration options of your wireless router. This setup password for the router is required if you want to create or change the other passwords in the preceding paragraph.  Configuring the wireless router is where you often encounter something called a default password, which simply means that all modems or routers of a certain model all have the same password entered at the factory.

Finally, although I could list a lot more passwords if I had more than 600 words here, there might be a username and password you need to access your account with your Internet Service Provider. Thankfully, the phone company or cable company often enters this password into your modem before sending it to you.

I hope this helps readers to understand where they are likely to encounter different passwords, and why some of these passwords are much more important than others.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.

No Comments Available