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Escape from Password Hell?

Posted by: Peter Burrows on November 29, 2005

Today, I had to call BW’s help desk because I forgot one of the many electronic passwords I need to do my job, and got myself locked out of our network for trying too many possibilities. Besides being a bit embarrassed at having to call yet again to have it reset, it was also a maddening waste of time. I ended up having to wait an extra day to edit an upcoming story, since I couldn’t get this resolved yesterday.

Turns out I'm not alone in my frustration. According to software developer Passlogix, roughly 40% of calls made to corporate help-desks are related to password problems. Consider the United States Post Office. Until recently, its 220,000 employees made 30,000 calls each month to have their passwords reset...and no, it's not because postal workers are a lower life form than the rest of us. It's because the average employee has eight different passwords to remember, all of which are updated at different times, says Wayne Grimes, the USPS' manager of customer care operations. In other words, there's no synchronization between the security systems of these various systems and applications.

Now, that 30,000 number has dropped to 5,000, thanks to some new IT systems put in place. That's in part due to Passlogix' softare, which lets customers use a "simulated single sign-on" approach--meaning you only need to remember a single password to get into all your applications, even if the actual password for each of them is different. Also, the USPS created an automated system so callers can reset their passwords, without having to speak to a real person. That's crucial, since helpdesk calls can cost $10 or more if an actual person provides the service.

No doubt, deploying such software is an involved, expensive undertaking--and certainly not a very strategically important one.(FYI, Passlogix charges $69 per user, along with annual maintenance charges). Still, Grimes says the USPS got a payback on its investment in three or four months by solving this ridiculously obvious problem. And while this probably won't usher out the use of the phrase "Going Postal", I'm sure there are a lot of USPS workers who are less frustrated as a result.

Seems like a good use of IT to me. If you think you know of another everyday problem that might also be easily addressed, let us know.

Reader Comments


November 30, 2005 1:06 PM

What is with the spelling mistakes and discrepancies relating to the number of help desk calls in this article???


August 20, 2008 10:29 AM

Last year Microsoft published research on password strength and lost passwords among global users of popular web-based email services like Gmail, Yahoo, ect which was roughly in line with these conclusions.

Here is an interesting new, free service which is working on helping people with this problem both from an ease of use and security standpoint and also from a secured sharing, password bookmarking standpoint. Not everyone will be comfortable with this type of approach but it uses local encryption - meaning the service doesn't have access to your passwords and it offers one click log-in to favorite sites.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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