Remember the Color of Your First Bicycle? Me, Neither.

Security_Questions_janetmckPart of living in an Internet world is dealing with (taking care of) security. Sure, you have to have good passwords, but for many websites, that is no longer good enough. In addition to a password, you often need to answer “security questions,” the answers to which only you would know.

The purpose of these security questions is to give the company that owns the website a way of verifying (making sure) that you are you, and not someone else trying to hack (enter illegally) into your account. If you lose your password or are logging in from a new device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.), the website may ask you one of these “secret” questions. And that’s where the problem begins.

For several years now, the questions asked have been pretty easy, such as:

  • What was your mother’s maiden name (her last name before she married)?
  • What’s your paternal grandfather‘s (your father’s father’s) middle name?
  • What was the name of your first pet as a child?

These and similarly easy-to-remember answers have been used for many years by banks and other institutions. In fact, the “maiden name” question was used by banks in Baltimore way back in 1906.

But the Internet provides many sources of information that can make it easy for other people to learn the answers to these “private” questions, especially when people post their personal information on Facebook and other social media websites. So government and business websites have begun to develop more difficult questions. And a lot of people have a hard time finding (and later, remembering) the answers to them.

For example, the government in many U.S. states now asks you to answer three security questions to sign up for the new health care plans. Even when given lots of options (in California, there are 30 possible questions!), people are having difficulty giving answers to them. Some people don’t know the answer to the question, and others have never been in the situation imagined (thought of) by the question.

Here are some that people have had problems with:

  • What was the color of your first bicycle?
  • Who was your favorite childhood (when you were very young) superhero (fictional character with special powers, like Wonder Woman or Superman)?
  • What was the name of the manager at the first job where you worked?
  • What is your significant other’s (wife’s, husband’s, girlfriend’s, or boyfriend’s) favorite color?
  • What is your youngest child’s birth weight?
  • Where were you when you had your first kiss?
  • What is your favorite vegetable?
  • What was the color of your first cat? (!)

Even worse than these are hypothetical questions, questions about things that aren’t even “real.” Here are some more examples from business and government websites:

  • If you could control (determine) your height (how tall you are), how tall would you be?
  • If you needed a new first name, what would it be?

Even if you can come up with (think of) answers to these hypothetical questions, will you be able to remember your answer a month from now? A year from now? In one study, more than 20% of the people forgot their answers to their security questions within three months – and that was with factual (real) questions and answers.

Have you ever seen any security questions that either you could not answer or (later) could not remember the answer to?


Image credit: Security Questions by Janet McKnight, CC

This entry was posted in Life in the United States, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Remember the Color of Your First Bicycle? Me, Neither.

  1. Dan says:

    Hi there guys

    As I was reading Jeff’s post I was thinking at how many times I have been through that hassle.

    One system I found out recently to be working well and makes you feel secure is used by Microsoft with their Xbox live.

    You can choose an option that double check who you are. Other than the usual password, they send you a code that you have to send it back through
    text message, mail, phone, depending on what the user of the service has chosen.

    Thank you Jeff

  2. Myo ko ko says:

    Yes, teacher Jeff
    I’ve had many instances of giving answers to such security questions.
    Right, even though the questions seem to be easy to be responded,
    we have great difficulty retriving the answers we gave to them.
    Speaking from experience, it happened to me a lot.
    Nearly all my answers have just slipped my mind a few months later and I’ve to rack my brain hard to re-get them.
    Well, I comfess here I’m kind of sort of guy who’s scatterbrained.
    (That is why I always forget Jeff’s birthday and even my own date-of-birth! 😉 )

    Later, I got a neat tactic to deal with these security questions and that has helped me a lot in overcoming losing tracks of my answers.
    The way I use is that everytime I’m given a crop of security questions,
    I first always look for a question that asks the name of one of my teachers.
    Like these questions:
    >> What is your favorite teacher’s name?
    >> What is the name of your English teacher [from your childhood]?
    >> What is the name of teacher you admire most or you like best?
    . . . and so on
    Well, my only and the same answer to these kinds of questions is always “Jeff.”
    Now you see, there’s no more headache for me to remember it later, no matter how absentminded I am!! 😉

    A fine trick, huh?
    Use it or lose it!

    Myo ko ko

  3. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Hello Dan! I like to see your answers asbout all posts here. How is to be one year older? About passwords and questions to make sure you are you, it is an interesting way to keep you safe from hackers but it is not all because those guys always find a way to crack your password and get into your private life. I would like to ask you what was the worst thing men invented. Do you know? Was it money, oil machine, computer …? Every invention men performed turned against them. Incredible, unbelievable!
    Aecio, the inverted man from out of solar system.

  4. Myo ko ko says:

    Hi, guys
    Do you all notice?
    Lately, our teacher Jeff is writing here about “online security.”
    Yes, nowadays, online security has become a matter of concern.
    This issue has gained a lot of media coverage.

    These days, I hear a lot about this subject in the news.
    Let me show you some headlines I read today from BBC.

    * Microsoft warns of hacker attacks
    * Bitcoin ‘at risk’ of network attack
    * Telecom firms under spying scrutiny
    * ‘123456’ tops Adobe password list
    * ‘Sweetie’ catches online predators

    As I use an ‘android’ tablet, I have installed a BBC News application on it.
    By this cute ‘app,’ I’m able to keep up to date with up-to-date news reports from BBC.
    That saves me a lot of time because in the past, it took my life digging out the BBC website,
    navigating one web page to another, in order to reach and read the news articles that interested me.
    With this pretty nice app, what I need to do is a tap on my tablet’s 9-inch touch screen to get updates right under my nose!

    Good for us!
    See you, guys

    Myo ko ko

  5. Betty says:

    Thanks Dear Jeff

    You and Lucy and Warren have kept me reading English from your website. I don’t want to forget my English and I should not if I have this website to learn English from.

    I always laugh when I have to answer those security questions. Laugh because I can’t think of an answer.

    One time they asked what’s my best friend’s name. I was forced to think of an answer. I then realized that I never thought about this question.

    I finally told them the name of my friend who has been helping me a lot in the past few years. Without her help, life would have been much harder for me. She must be my best friend.

    I am not sure if I am her best friend.

    Thanks again Jeff, good topic, it might come up in the exam.

    Betty 🙂

  6. emiliano says:

    Dear Jeff, it happened to me every now and then may be because I have so many internet sites that it is necessary to change the passwords lot of time.

    The gatufo´s blog, Facebook, twiter, two or three mails, Cuca´s mail, N.Y.Times and lot of news papers, Amazon, Apple, and so forth., yes may be
    dozens of passwords without counting the Bank´s cards, accounts, and I don´t know which more.

    As frequently I have a lot of tasks to do by the web my head it is crazy and sometimes I can´t remember the passwords.

    Some body could think it is easy, use the same password for everything, but it is not possible because when there are some intents of hackering the
    account, the mail, or which ever other site you are requested to change the password.

    No, I can´t remember wich secret question I wrote so it is more easy to have the phone number and receive a code in the mail of the phone, once you have it, you may change the password you can´t remember or the one it has been one intent of being hacked.

    Ye, my gmail account has four or five hacker intend or coming into it, why? I can say the reason, but the majority of the hackers intents have been
    in EE.UU., twice in Texas, onother in Miami, and the last one in Alaska.
    Just incredible, but is true, may be as the gatufo´s blog iit s opened with the gmail account may be some body over there like to write something as
    it was me or similar.

    By the way, it is possible also I am spied too as it has been the phone of Angela Merkel and another good known people.
    150.000 visits to gatufo´s blog it is a high number of visits, don´t you think so my dear Jeff?

    So thanks to ESL blog I have been teached to write in my own, in Spanish or English, but also with some other language helped by the google translation tools.

    My dear daughter Eva said last week that was here at home that she has awakened a monster of communications, and I think it is true.
    Was Eva who opened my blog, two years ago.
    Thanks Eva, you are wonderful.

    Thank you so much also Jeff, Lucy, Warren and all ESL Staff., you are marvellous teachers and the practice here for six or seven years
    has been so nice and important.
    Never I could have a blog if previously I don´t have writen here so much, thanks thanks thanks JEFF AND LUCY.


  7. Willy says:

    I haven’t got any security question in my life. I always don’t remember them.

  8. emiliano says:

    Myo Ko Ko, you are a genious also.

    That´s right and it gives me a good idea, three names since just this day.


  9. emiliano says:


    gatufo´s blog of:

    April 09 2013

    Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast

    The best web site to learn English….Thanks Jeff/Lucy/Warren
    gatufo (Emiliano)….yes, it´s like home for me along more than seven years.
    All are like friends.
    L.A. (California)
    HOME > BLOG > Podcasts This Week (April 8, 2013)

    Just today Blog…..

    Love the sunshine of the meadow,
    Love the shadow of the forest,
    Love the wind among the branches,
    And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
    And the rushing of great rivers.

    The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


    Love the smile on your face
    Love the softness of your voice
    Love the nights of Winter together
    Love the touch of your fingers on my skin
    Love the noise of your breath sleeping
    Love the sound of your heart against mine.

    Thanks dear poet, may be you inspire me with
    your kind words.



    Thanks dear friends of the Blog, to all of you, friends and teachers along six or seven days?

    A grateful emiliano


  10. Dan says:

    Hi there Aècio.

    I do not really know how to answer your question, since I cannot come up with something bad we invented.

    I like and try to always look at things from many different angles, so everything can be good and bad at the same time depending on how you look at it.

    Thank you

  11. emiliano says:

    Right Dan.

    sorry Aecio but I think the same as Dan now.

    His wise words are:
    I like and try to always look at things from many different angles, so everything can be good and bad at the same
    time depending on how you look at it Sorry Aecio.

    So as Dan said, I do think there are few things absolutely bad, it is clear and all of us know which can be those
    absolutely bad subjects.
    Being honest and moral, all other things have two sides and it depends the use we can give them.

    If we abuse of the good things these could give us bad results, but intrinsically man´s inventions had been
    or try to be for good not for bad.
    We are the one who use these subjects and the result it is always in our hands.

    That´s my point of view of course, that is the same as Dan now.

    Sorry Aecio.


  12. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Dan, where is menkind going to? Perhaps nowhere. I wonder if I could find. Dan, there are questions with no answer. Don’t mind, just for fun.
    Aecio from that place where no one lives.

  13. Wang says:

    Hi Jeff!

    I don’t know what is wrong with those programers who set up those websites. Many times they gave me very crazy questions that I couldn’t even think of a good answer for them. Life is already hard to live on

    why even just a tool of life (I mean the internet) they also want to make it become a burden? yes, I know there are reasons to do such tasks, but I wonder did they really think for their customers, their users?

    Then did they try to answer those questions that had crossed their mind for the first sight?…Well, I found it is ridiculous that we (the human being) first invented the internet to make our life much more easier,

    probably most for communicating, now it starts turning against us. We seem to lean too much on the internet that even a day without our tablets, smart gadgets is somehow unimaginable! Sorry, it may sounds

    sour but I’m not criticizing anyone here. We all have this common ground :D. Sometimes I found myself hard to get thru a day in lack of my phone, yeah I’m a scatterbrain, everything I have to make a note

    on my phone otherwise those tasks will go in one ear and out immediately the other. But I have to say that I’m trying not to dig a hell hole for myself in the cyber world. Not many but several times, I pick one

    or two days not touching the keyboard and do other things else, you know out of the virtual world, try to be green @.@! I consider there are differences between my mom and pop phone and smart gadgets.

    But for inclusion, I will make it clear right here that with an on-budget phone I can’t not be sucked into another illusive world. It’s hard not to feel bad whenever I see a child playing his parents electric devices

    instead of with his parents. I always assume that child will soon withdraw himself into a cover, into that unreal world if his parents are careless in teaching him how to use it wisely, profitably. And it happens

    a lot in my country. A real threat of deprived childhood is on its way to get into my country. Children, they only know farms, ranches, animals via some screens, not in real…and they deserve much more than just

    those screens. So be aware of that is our parental responsibility 😀 Sorry, I drifted away quite far from our topic.

    Best regard!


  14. emiliano says:

    It is so cla knife has a blade and two sides, can be large or small, and has varied uses.
    You can cut the bread, the meat, help us simply as a useful object, a good invention.
    It also has a very bad use, you can cut a life, be a deadly weapon.
    The knife is not bad in itself, what is wrong and clear it is the use we may done to
    this knife.

    More or less things are so simple like this knife.
    Good used it is incredible good, bad used cut a life or several.

    The knife it is not bad, we can hold it and give the knife always
    a good use.
    The same with Facebook, Internet, twiter, personal computers or cars.
    The same with which ever single thing you look at.

    Good inventions, good or bad use.
    That´s all.


  15. emiliano says:

    sorry, so fast and bad use of the computer.

    Read please:

    It is so simple as a knife that has……..etc.

  16. Myo ko ko says:

    Speaking of security matter,
    Here on this Jeff and Lucy’s blog, we’ve to go through a security system to leave our comments.
    A CAPTCHA Code system in which we need to type in a four-character code of letters and numbers we see on a graphic.
    So far, this code system is working well and assumed to be the most reliable one.

    But according to a recent news story, a newly-developed program is that smart as to be able to
    read over 90% of these CAPTCHA code correctly. The U.S. government has tested and regconized its ability.
    That special software has used so-called artificial intelligence (AI).
    The group that developed this intelligent application said that they’re still working on it and it’s not for nefarious use.

    Well, it is a welcome to make a program think like a human being.
    But while one person is doing something good, someone else is bringing in something bad.

    Humm, in all aspects, the world we live in is mathematically balanced, in an equilibrium, I think.

    Myo ko ko

  17. Wang says:

    Yes, emiliano!

    You are totally right. Things are bad or good depend on individual’s view point and so do the use of it

    If you utilized things for bad motions, then it would be bad and vice versa. And yes, children they are all imitating machine, they are like white papers

    Whatever we, adults, do things, even the bad ones which has been erased already, there are still some marks on them.

    So stay wary whenever it comes to your children.

    The reason I brought up the matter is that I see, many parents in my country, they let their children get in touch with tablets quite soon. And you may not know that

    many many of them just let their child play games, which I consider as bad, instead showing them how to use it as a useful tool for learning. Quite often, I sense even an adult

    don’t know how to use it effectively (I mean in my country). They buy an Ipad just to play games, take pictures…I’m like, come on people, that is not the only use of it! use it to check your mail, to do

    your business, for your work, to keep your knowledge up from other fields…

    I heard this from my friends. Once he asked me: Do you know why Apple would never do any advertisements in our country? I said no, then he explained: did you notice how many

    percent Apple’s products are in our market? Most of the time, if you ask somebody in my country what will they call a ” may tinh bang” which stands for “tablet”,

    I guess almost 80% of the responding will go with an Ipad, not a Samsung and neither an Asus… they said Ipad subconsciously!

    I can say the majority of people who are using a tablet here, not because they find it’s useful for good purposes but it’s a convenient tool for showing off or at least for indulging their craze

    Don’t take me wrong, I’m not a sour grape. Here are just my opinions!


  18. Myo ko ko says:

    [With the help of translator]

    Querido Emiliano
    Me alegro de que encuentra mi idea útil.
    He estado usando esta práctica ya que he encontrado gran ESL Podcasts y el profesor Jeff.
    Y siempre es un placer de leer sus comentarios aquí.

    Por favor, tenga cuidado de su salud.

    Con respetos,
    Myo ko ko

  19. emiliano says:

    Answering to the question I think it was red, and I had it with four or five years old.
    No other children of my age living close home hadn´t one, it was a gift of my godfather
    but he wasn´t Marlon Brando.

    My best.


  20. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Of course, Jeff, in one of my professional websites, I have to answer to one questions if one day I forget my password.

    The question is “ What is the country where would you like to make a trip once in your life ”

    You have to choice between one of four questions. I chose it because it’s easy for me to remember of this question.

    I think also that you are right when you say, be careful when you put a lot of informations on social networks.

    That makes easy for hackers to take some informations in order to hack your account.

    See you soon !


  21. emiliano says:

    Guau, good very good Myo Ko Ko, you may write Spanish very good with translator or not it is very well written.

    WANG, absolutely right, what you said it is so in your country but here too just the same for lot of people, but
    not only with their children that all have their Smart phones some times an iPhone, despite there is not money
    for other subjets, and what is even worst these people know nothing about internet, the sites that children
    may visit and what they could do with the iPhone/Samsung videos taken by the phones, what they do in Facebook
    or other dangerous sites in the Web.
    My daughter Ever Works in a Bank, Canarias Islands, lot of people over there have not work but all of them
    have smartphones sometime the last model of iPhone, Samsung or Tablets, and at the end of the month have
    to pay such an amount of euros for the calls receipts that is incredible for her.

    Now it is necessary to know not only about mathematics, geography or other subjects, it is necessary also
    to know about Internet, Facebook, Twiiteer, and what kind of things children could see on the web.
    Some times very bad sites that parents doesn´t imagine or can´t control.

    An incredible good invention as it is Internet could be absolutely dangerous for Young girls or boys, even
    children that could do just what they have not to do without knowing the risks, and parents can´t control
    because know nothing about the subject or even have not time to share with their sons or daughters.

    I think Wang that every where it is more o less the same, here in Spain, or in your ountry that is……?
    China? or which one, please ?.

    Congratulations Wang, your way of writing is going up month after month and Myo Ko Ko you are always
    one of the best here my dear friend from Maynmar, you are great.


  22. Wang says:

    Thank you Emiliano for your compliments…I’m following your footsteps here 😀

    I have been receiving a lot of motivations from you, Myo and others…and lots of time I made mistakes 😀

    Have a nice weekend, all friends in ESL sweet-house!

  23. Tania says:

    Hi! I like very much Jodie Forster.
    I don’t know if I like very much “The Silence of the Lambs”… but for sure I can’t forget the dialogue between Clarice Starling and Dr. Lecter.
    Dr. Lecter: “You’re so ambitious, aren’t you?
    You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube.
    A well-scrubbed, hustling rube, with a little taste.
    Good nutrition’s given you some length of bone, but you are not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?
    And that accent you’ve tried so desperately to shed – pure West Virginia.
    What does your father do? Is he a coal miner?… while you could only dream of getting out.
    Getting anywhere, getting all the way to the F…B…I.”

    “I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case , though. About yourself.
    Quid pro quo. Yes or no?”

  24. Tania says:

    Hi! I had to verify the meaning of the phrase “quid pro quo”.
    “This for that ” in Latin and means “a favour for a favour”.

  25. Tania says:

    C. Starling: “You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?
    What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at you and write down what you see?
    Maybe you’re afraid to?”

    Dr. Lecter:”First principles, Clarice: simplicity.”

  26. Tania says:

    C. Starling: He kills women.
    Dr. L. : No, that is incidental. What needs does he serve by killing?
    C. Starling: Anger, social acceptance, and , uh, sexual frustration…
    Dr. L.: No, he covets. That’s his nature. And how do we begin to covet?
    We begin by coveting what we see every day. And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?

  27. Tania says:


    Dr.L.: No! I will listen now….You went to live with cousins on a sheep and horse ranch. And?
    C.Starling: And one morning , I just run away.
    Dr.L. : Not “just”, Clarice. You started at what time?
    C. Starling: Early, still dark.
    Dr.L.: Then something woke you, didn’t it? Was it a dream? What was it?
    C. Starling: It was… screaming. Some kind of screaming, like a child’s voice.
    Dr.L. : What did you do?
    C. Starling: I went downstairs, outside. I crept into the barn. I was so scared to look inside, but I had to.
    Dr.L.: And what did you see, Clarice? What did you see?
    C. Starling: Lambs. And they were screaming.
    Dr.L. : And you ran away?
    C. Starling: No. First I tried to free them. I…I opened the gate to their pen, but they wouldn’t run.
    They just stood there, confused. They wouldn’t run.
    Dr.L. : But you could and you did, didn’t you?
    C.Starling: Yes. I took one lamb, and I ran away as fast as I could.
    Dr.L. : Where were you going, Clarice?
    C.Starling: I don’t know. I didn’t have any food, any water, and it was very cold, very cold. I thought, I thought if I could save just one , but…he was so heavy. So heavy.
    Dr. L. : What became of your lamb?
    C.Starling: They killed him.
    Dr. L.: You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.
    C.Starling: Yes.
    Dr.L.: …You think if Catherine lives, you won’t wake up in the dark ever again to that awful screaming of the lambs.
    C. Starling: I don’t know. I don’t know.

  28. Tania says:


    Jame (Buffalo Bill) Gumb (shouting) : You don’t know what pain is!

  29. Tania says:


    Dr. Lecter in his letter to Clarice:

    The silence will never became eternal. Clarice eventually finds rest sleeping peacefully
    “in the silence of the lambs. …and the suffering will never stop.

  30. Tania says:


    And the author of the novel””The Silence of the Lambs”, Thomas Harris, at the end of the book reminds us of “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot.
    I don’t know at what part from this poem the author thought.
    Maybe at this part?

    “Although I do not hope to turn again
    Although I do not hope
    Although I do not hope to turn again

    Wavering between the profit and the loss
    In this brief transit where the dreams cross
    The dream crossed twilight between birth and dying
    And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
    In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices.”

  31. Tania says:

    Hi! I have had no idea that Jodie Forster acted in so many movies according to Wikipedia.
    I have seen just a few.
    Anyway, “Nell” is one of my favourite movie with Jodie Forster like “Rainman” with Dustin Hoffman.

  32. emiliano says:

    Good fascinating work dear Tania, this movie is one of my good to see once and again and of course I have read the three books
    of Thomas Harris.
    Jodie Foster is really a good and very intelligent woman.

    Did you know that her has a I.Q. of 132
    Sharon Stone I.Q. 154
    Marilyn Monroe I.Q.. 165 and every body said she was a silly blonde
    Hillary Clinton I.Q. 140
    Denzel Washington I.Q. 150
    Madonna I.Q. 140
    Bill Gates I.Q. 160……less than Marilyn Monroe
    Matt Damond I.Q. 160
    Terminator Sw…I.Q. 132

    Did you see:

    La extraña que hay en ti
    (The brave one)

    It is interesting…..if you can see it…

    I like also Anthony Hopkins very much.

    By the way

    Quid pro quo it is a saying Cuca and me use a lot in our talks together…..I love this saying.

  33. emiliano says:

    Jame Wood I.Q. is the top……180
    and Q. Tarantino I.Q. is 160

    even less that Marilyn M. the silly blonde, it makes mi laugh very often
    when I heard something about she, my loved Marilyn.

    Thanks Tania, you put your touch in the blog……good, very good indeed.


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