My Origins in 1 Paragraph—and a Gripe

My ancestors did research and activism and revered diverse people. And this reminds me of something I hate about Web security questions.

For those who like to know such things, I am a child of a political scientist and a physiologist who were children of a rabbi, a stockbroker, a Zionist activist, and a housewife. My parents’ heroes included Leon Trotski, Sigmund Freud, Robert Hutchins (they named me after him), Mortimer Adler, and Mort Sahl.

What gets me about this hero thing is the absurd security questions that Web sites force users to choose among, like “Who is your favorite composer?” Questions like that are as definitive, for me at least, as “What is your favorite length of shoelace?” or “What material was your first bathroom countertop made of?” I’ve spent eons wading through these lists trying to find 1, 2, or (if they insist) 3 questions whose answers I won’t forget. If they only asked “What exiled Communist leader did your parents venerate in college?”, I’d have no trouble remembering the answer. What’s with these Web site designers anyway? If they don’t understand their users’ memory attributes any better than that, they should be in a different profession.

Years ago I started, on sites I designed, letting users specify any question they wanted. That method had its defects, too. The main one I noticed was the inanely easy-to-guess questions some users formulated. But at least I wasn’t so arrogant as to claim to know what questions would be both easy for the user and impossible for anybody else.

Suggestions about the optimal security-question regime would be welcome.

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