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Lessons From Passwords in Pop Culture

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Happy(?) World Password Day 2024, everyone! Last year, we lamented why this day existed and laid out why the time for passwordless was upon us. The time for passwordless is still upon us, but time moves slowly when you’re living through history. We also didn’t want to write the same thing every year. So this year, we’re asking a different question.

Why are passwords still popular? 

They aren’t as popular as before, but an average person will still know what passwords are compared to passkeys, magic links, or social login. I think it’s at least partly because passwords are all around us. Movies, TV shows, books, video games, interpretive dance – throw a stone at a piece of media and you’ll probably hit something that talks about passwords. 

In this blog, we’ll look at some popular mentions of passwords in pop culture and what we can learn from them.


WarGames is a fun thriller movie starring a young Matthew Broderick, before his Ferris Bueller and Lion King days, who accidentally discovers a military supercomputer while searching for video games and the chaos that ensues. 

In the early part of the movie, we see David (Matthew’s character) hacking into the school computer with the password “pencil”. When asked how he knew the password, David says the school changes passwords every few weeks but he knows where they are written down.

Lesson Learned: Changing passwords regularly is good in theory, but you defeat the purpose of the exercise if you can’t remember your ever-changing passwords and have to write them down. Don’t write down your passwords. If you plan on regularly changing your passwords, strong and random passwords are the way to go.

National Treasure

We’re all living in Nicolas Cage’s world. The man can star in a movie where he is literally named Benjamin Franklin and steals the Declaration of Independence, and the audience will lap it up (as they should). National Treasure is a cult hit movie that I’ll forever defend because it knows how absurd it is. 

In a relatively non-absurd scene, Cage is able to guess the password locking access to the National Archives. Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger’s character) has unknowingly touched a chemical residue before entering the password, leaving behind the residue on all the letters used in the password. 

And because it’s a movie about the Declaration of Independence, of course the password is “Valley Forge” because it was a key event in the American Revolution.

Lesson Learned: Two lessons here. Firstly, watch out for keyloggers. While it’s unlikely you are guarding secrets sensitive enough for attackers to spray chemicals on your fingers, installing keyloggers on your system to capture your keystrokes is possible. Secondly, don’t create passwords that are a core part of your personality. How many proctologists have “AssMan1234” as their password? I’m betting a non-zero number.


Before it became weird in the later seasons, BBC’s reimagining of Sherlock took the world by storm and deservedly launched the career of Benedict Cumberbatch. In early episodes, it’s thrilling to watch the smart man in the silly hat guess outrageous things by studying environmental cues. 

In A Scandal in Belgravia, there’s one such scene that’s half-impressive, half-cringe. Irene Adler has given Sherlock her phone for safekeeping, but the phone keeps displaying the message “I AM _ _ _ _ LOCKED”. 

After going through multiple failed guesses, Sherlock finally realizes that Irene is besotted with him and is also a fan of wordplay. The password is “SHER” and the phone message says “I AM SHERLOCKED”.

Watch the video below from 2:03 for the ultimately elementary reveal.

Lesson Learned: If you care about someone and display it publicly (e.g. on social media), do not make them your password. Your mother’s maiden name, your cat’s name, and the name of your favorite sports team all make for memorable passwords, but also easily crackable ones.

Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves

The OG password. Part of Arabian Nights, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is a story about an impoverished woodcutter discovering secret treasure. The thieves' den is protected by a magical password, but no worries - Ali Baba just overhears the secret phrase and utters the famous words “Open Sesame”.

Open Sesame has taken on a life of its own over the past few decades. Popeye overhears it. Aladdin overhears it. Even Patrick from SpongeBob is well-read enough to know about it.

Lesson Learned: Check all nearby nooks and crevices before you open secret portals by shouting secret codes. More realistically, watch out for shoulder surfing when you type in your password. Sometimes the easiest way for attackers to know your password is to watch you type it in.


Ajnabee (Stranger) is a Hindi-language movie about murder, Swiss mountains, couple swapping, police chases, and insurance scams – also known as a standard Friday in Bollywood. 

I must stress that you should not watch this movie. None of it makes sense. That said, it’s immensely entertaining. Maybe you can check it out. Also, there’s a certain innocence and joy in seeing older movies displaying cliches and impossible events as huge plot twists. You should definitely watch this movie.

In a scene towards the end, Bobby Deol (the good guy) is trying to guess Akshay Kumar’s (the bad guy) bank account password. In a fun comeuppance exchange, Bobby not only throws shade at Akshay by calling him an orphan, but also immediately guesses his password as “Everything is Planned”, a phrase Akshay keeps on uttering throughout the movie.

The video below shows the scene in all its glory from 10:06 to 11:06.

Lesson Learned: While using phrases for passwords is better practice than using boilerplates or other publicly identifiable information, it’s still not a good idea if that phrase is closely associated with you. Bugs Bunny, if you are reading this, is your password “What’s Up Doc”? You can do better, Bugs.


Pop culture, whether it’s highbrow art or trash TV, holds up a mirror to the human condition and highlights things important to us throughout history. Passwords are undoubtedly a part of our history and present. I hope they are less and less a part of our future. 

Will pop culture catch up enough that I can list mentions of passkeys in pop culture in the coming years? I live in hope.

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