Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Plea to TV & Movie Writers: Stop Having Your Heroes Successfully Guess Passwords

On last night's episode of NBC's new soap Deception, protagonist Joanna – a detective going undercover as an assistant for the wealthy Bowers family to find out if one of them is guilty of murder – had a late night conversation with family patriarch Robert Bowers, whose computer she needs to get into. In this conversation, Robert sadly mused that when his rich prick oldest son Edward was a little boy he used to call him "Eddie Spaghetti." Joanna casually asked Robert how old Edward was when he called him that and Robert told her he was four.

Then Robert left the office and Joanna hopped on his computer and got access to his incredibly important secret files and showed off how smart she is by correctly guessing on her very first try Robert's password: Spaghetti4.

Yes, she's so smart she knew it wasn't "Eddiespaghetti4" or "Eddie_spaghetti4," but just "Spaghetti4." She's so fucking smart she even knew the "S" was supposed to be capitalized, and that there weren't any underscores or punctuation. That it wasn't "SPAGhetti__four," or "spaghetti4_!", or, being a computer containing life-shattering corporate secrets worth billions of dollars and possible murder convictions, you know, like, "kKg89H1_rb8," or something like that.


Up to this point in my life, I have yet to ever see a single scene in a film or TV show where a character successfully guessed another character's computer password based on shallow details of their life or, worse, stuff in the same room as the computer (see the insanely fucking stupid password-guessing scene in Sherlock season 2 episode 2, "The Hounds of Baskerville," for a truly godawful example of the latter) that wasn't suspension-of-belief-shatteringly fucking moronic. Every single scene of this type sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, fucking sucks out fucking loud.

Even if you ignored stuff like numbers and underscores and punctuation and alternating capitalization, these scenes would still be fucking stupid. How many people's passwords are really just the names of the most obvious things in their lives? I know mine aren't! Based on TV and movies, the passwords I use for like, posting on internet forums about TV shows – much less my bank account – are a million times more secure than the passwords guarding massive conspiracies, life-or-death stuff, even nuclear secrets.

So, here's my plea to all screenwriters: If you're writing a scene involving your heroes trying to get into someone's computer and not knowing the password, try having them find it written down somewhere, or bribe/coax/torture the information out of someone, or give the damn thing to a hacker, or see the computer's owner type it in, or dust for fucking fingerprints or just not be able to get into the computer at all or anything else other than guessing the password, and if you can't, then please delete your shitty screenplay and burn the manuscript.

(Note: The one exception to everything I've written above is in comedies when people get into their coworker's computer by correctly guessing that the password is "password," which is admittedly pretty funny. But it's been done in multiple shows, so don't do that either.)

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