Thursday, 20 June 2013

Is it safe?

I've worked in IT for nearly thirty years now... You're surprised, I know I come across as young and vibrant and thrusting, but in the real world I am a decrepit husk, kept alive only by a room of complicated machinery whose gloop-filled pipes take care of my every biological whim.

The years worth of IT based stories that you've read already have given you an idea of the sort of things that happen on a daily basis and result in the kind of enlarged foreheads that you often see on IT support people (This is not from increased brain capacity, even though that's what they'd have you believe, it's purely from the constant banging of heads against desks, walls, or in some extreme cases, the users themselves.)

But, if I were to have to pick a single 'thing' that causes more calls than anything else, it would have to be passwords.

July and August used to be the traditional 'busy' times for people to ask to have their passwords reset.  I get that, people go away on holiday and forget their passwords, it happens.  It's annoying, but it happens.  But more and more it's getting to be over Bank Holiday weekends, these people come back on a Tuesday morning, sit at their desks surrounded by pictures of their sticky faced kids and the pen-holder made out of a jam-jar covered in plaster and gravel and their minds go blank. They'll sit there with their fingers hovering like eagle's claws over the keyboard for a good few minutes, wracking their brains to remember what they'd set it to on the Wednesday before, before they pick up the phone and call 'The Helpdesk'.

The standard conversation goes a little bit like this...


'Hello support, Dandy speaking, how can I add value to your day?'

'My computer doesn't work.'

'Excellent... And you are?'

'Unable to do anything, because my computer isn't working.'

'Aha-ha-ha... Yes... Very good... But I meant what's your name?'

'My name is Mabel, I work in accounts.'

'Hello Mabel, OK, so what exactly is happening?'

'My password isn't working, when I type it in it says "Incorrect User Name or password"'

'And do you know your password?'


'And what is it?'

'Ah... Well... We're not supposed to tell anyone our password are we?'

'Technically no, but you can tell me...'

'But you could be anyone, I don't know you.'

'Well, you did call the Helpdesk, and I answered - So you should have at least some idea of who I am, if you think about it... (I listen to a couple of minutes muffled chatting in the background about how many times Chris Packham used the word 'Tits' in the previous evening's Springwatch)... Hello? Are you still there?'

'Yes, someone asked me a question - Can you change it please?'

'No problem, just give me a second to log onto the server.'

'Will you be able to see what's on my computer?'

'When I log onto the server?  No, don't worry.  What's your User Name?'


'No, sorry, I mean the thing you type above your password when you log in.'

'I don't type anything in above my password - I don't know what you mean.'

(I force my head not to impact with the table)

'When you log on, there are two boxes, you type your User Name into the top one and your password into the bottom one... What does it say in the top one?'


'No, actually in the box, I know that it says User Name to the left of the box, but what's actually IN the box?'

'It says Username, you just told me to type it in.'

'No I... Wait, What?'

'You said that I should type "Username" in the top box.'

(I take a second to bite myself repeatedly on the forearm - to check that I'm not having a nightmare)

'When you turn your computer on in the morning, what does it say in that box normally?'

'I can't remember - I don't usually have to type it in.'

'Fine, what's your surname?'


(I search on the server for someone with the surname Table, but can't find anyone)

'You're name's definitely... Mabel Table?'


'Only, I can't find anyone with that name, are you new?'

'No, I've been here for ten years!'

'Have you recently got married?'

'Yes! It was lovely, we had cake and bunting and we released some doves that my Mum said were pigeons which was a scandal for how much she paid and had wine and a balloon animal bloke.'

'Sounds lovely... What was your name before you got married?'


(I look down the list on the server and find Mabel Unterbrook, I reset her password and unlock her account, as she'd been trying random passwords and had locked it)

'I've changed the password for "munter01" to "Thursday01" - You'll need to change it the first time you log on.'

'What should I change it to?'

'Well, anything you like, but preferably something you'll remember.'

'Like what?'

'I don't really know, do you have a password for something like telephone banking?'

'Yes, it's "YellowHat"!'

'I didn't actually need to know that, but I guess you could use it, if you put a number on the end - There are rules: It has to be at least eight letters, it has to have a mix of upper and lower case letters, and it must contain a number.'

'Just let me write that down.'

'We suggest that you don't write down your password anywhere.'

'No, I was writing down the rules.'

'OK, did you want to try logging on?'

'So, I put "munter01" in the top box and my new password in the bottom one?'


(A long wait and than sounds of furious tapping)

'It says Incorrect User Name or Password again.'

'Try it again for me please...'

'Nope, same thing.'

'What password are you using?'


'Why are you using that? I said I'd changed it to "Thursday01"'

'But you said I'd have to change it to "YellowHat1" the first time I logged in.'

'I... But... Erm... Look, just type "munter01" in the top box and "Thursday01" in the bottom one.'

(More furious tapping)

'Hey that's worked.  But it's asking me to change my password.'

'It will do, yes.'

'But you've just changed my password haven't you?'

'Enter "Thursday01" in the top box, "YellowHat1" in the middle box and confirm it in the bottom box.'

'It says my new passwords don't match.'

'Did you type your new password in both of the bottom two boxes?'

'No, I typed "YellowHat1" in the middle one and "Yes" in the bottom one.'

'Why did you do that exactly?'

'You told me to confirm my password, so I typed "Yes"'


It was shortly after that that she got moved to another department, well, I say department, actually she's inside one of the bridge supports of the M6 Toll Road - If you look carefully as you go past Brownhills, you'll see a particularly stupid looking pillar, that's her.

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