Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How do you securely store passwords?

While our brains have an amazing capacity to store knowledge, it has been said that we only use 10% of this ability. I see that in this guy I know. He has an uncanny knack for remembering numbers. He can tell you the phone number and street address of everyplace he has ever lived within moments. But the guy loses his keys almost daily.

My friend is also great at remembering multiple passwords and logins. Most people aren’t, so we need to store them somewhere. Keeping them secure is the problem. There are basically three ways to do it:
1) Write them down,
2) Create a password protected file on your computer that includes all your usernames, account numbers and passwords.
3) Or, use technology.

I wouldn’t recommend the first option. Storage of a piece of paper is problematic. Where does it get stored? Will you remember where you put it? Is it convenient when you need it? If it is convenient, is it safe?

The second option isn’t bad, but doesn’t give me peace of mind. It is, however, the method I’ve been using. I use a Microsoft Word document that I’ve secured with a password, but over the last several months I’ve had this nagging feeling that it’s not enough. So, I’ve begun to explore the technology frontier.

There are many programs available to help store passwords. Ideally I’d like something that is highly secure, accessible through the Internet, and free. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. What I’ve found are a number of systems that could be accessible from anywhere but carry a price or downloadable systems that reside on my computer and are free.

Of the free I started using Password Safe. Like most of the programs I looked at Password Safe isn’t exclusively for storing passwords. Password Safe locks up any file on your computer of your choice. Password Safe does offer a U3 disk-on-key version for remote accessibility, but there is a nominal fee and really isn’t what I’m looking for.

Billeo is another free program. This one has a more sophisticated look than Password Safe. It also offers features that I wouldn’t use like a bill payment system. I’d say more about this program, but I couldn’t get the download to work.

1Password, is one that’s been recommended quite a bit. This one costs $39.95 after a free 30-day trial. There are applications for iPhone and Palm OS. I’ve heard that the iPhone app is $4.99.

Another system that was recommended is Roboform. The full version costs $29.95. There is a free version of this and it does have applications for Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian and Blackberry.

After looking at all of these options I’m sticking with the basic Password Safe for now. It’s not pretty and doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but that’s just fine. Most of the other programs offered much more than I was looking for which made downloading complex and time consuming. And I don’t need to pay for a bunch of features that I don’t really need.

What do you use to keep track of all of your passwords?

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