Hit Me with a Wrench All You Want, I Can’t Tell You My Password


I type my password many times a day to unlock my laptop, but I can’t tell you what it is. I don’t really know it. Let me explain…

Many years ago the allure of a more efficient keyboard layout with faster typing speed and less wrist pain prompted me to learn the Dvorak keyboard layout. Keyboards with labels in Dvorak do exist, but most people learn the layout as I did, on a normal QWERTY keyboard. It’s a real struggle to re-wire your brain to type in a new keyboard layout, but it sure teaches you to not look at the keys!

When I started Dvorak I used the same password as I did in QWERTY, but eventually I created a new one, at which point I had fully switched to using Dvorak. I created a random string and had it written down for a few days until I was certain I had it memorized. From then on I virtually never saw my password — it’s always entered into a hidden field and the letters I physically press don’t correspond to what I’m typing. I know it, but it’s entirely muscle memory.

On the rare occasion I have to enter a password on QWERTY, I have to really think about it. I have to either use a Dvorak layout and look at the output, or close my eyes and imagine I’m doing so. Even after using Dvorak exclusively and fully functionally for 13 years now, I find I cannot picture the layout in my head.

It really takes significant mental effort to replay the muscle memory and retrieve the password for use in QWERTY. Under duress it would be even harder, and if I were drugged I doubt I would have the mental capacity to do it.

So I’ve accidentally encoded my password into my muscle memory but not my normal memory. Unfortunately I don’t think this will really help me with my hypothetical captors.

Hacker, entrepreneur, and quantified self nerd. cyounkins at gmail.