PINS, Ciphers & Security

We've all been told by our banks not to carry in our purse or wallet the Personal Identification Number (PIN) we use to activate our ATM cards.

For most of us, this isn't a problem. But for a number of reasons, some people may need to remember two PINs, or a PIN and the combination to a safe. Or a PIN, the combination to a safe, and the code number for an alarm system. Mix in numbers for telephone calling cards, a fax machine and a cell phone, and it's no wonder that we sometimes become confused.

Relax. There's a way to keep a record of your important but confidential numbers without making them an easy target for anybody who manages to take a peek at your wallet. And if you've ever liked word puzzles, cryptograms or Dick Tracy watches, you might even find it fun.

We're talking about using a cipher—a system of secret writing based on a number and letter key that only you know. Here's how it works. Suppose you need to remember the number 3295. Devise a word or group of words that you can easily remember totaling 10 letters in length.

For example, you might use B 0 W L F R I D A Y if you're in a Friday night bowling league. Don't use any letter more than once. Next, in consecutive order, assign a number to each letter: B1, 0=2, W=3, L=4, F=5, R=6, 1=7, D=8, A=9, Y=0. Using that key, you could write the code WOAF in your wallet (to stand for 3295), and nobody would know what it means because they wouldn't know your key phrase, BOWLFRIDAY.

Naturally, you don't want to write your key word or phrase down anywhere. But you'll probably find it much easier to remember it than any series of digits, and you'll be able to use the same word or phrase as the basis for all of your confidential numbers.

Try it, and you'll always have an easy way to reconstruct your PIN, safe combination, or alarm system code for those times when your memory won't quite do the trick.