Monday, January 14, 2008

Get Control Of Your Passwords

Are you frustrated by the number of passwords and usernames you need to track on the internet? If you spend anytime on the web you have a lot of usernames and passwords that have to be remembered to access different web sites you visit. I will review a solution that uses free software and a Thumb drive to keep all your login details.

Most people just use the same username and password for the web sites they visit. I was guilty of that as well. In fact, a password security study conducted by the Software Usability Research Laboratory at Wichita State University found that 74.9% of people polled reported that they used a small set of passwords frequently.

This approach to password management has several drawbacks:

  1. Some Websites assign the username or password
  2. Your username may be taken already at a site
  3. Your username or password may not meet the requirements of a website

But the most important drawback to using the same username and password is that it is not secure. If some unscrupulous person discovers your login information for one site, they can gain access to all of the sites you visit and accounts that you have. For some web sites, this may not matter, for others, such as online banking, or bill payment sites, this can cause you a lot of trouble.

We need to keep so many login credentials that it is impossible to remember them all. (I currently have over 75 accounts for which I need to keep a username and password.) So we resort to using the a small set of names that we can remember. Another solution that many people use is to write them down and keep the list with us. This is also not a good plan. If you lose the list or take it out where someone can see it then the finder has everything to access your life.

The method I now use to solve this problem and keep my passwords secure

I struggled with this dilemma for some time. After trying many approaches I found one that is easy to implement, is secure and is portable. The method uses freely available software and costs nothing (or almost nothing if you do not have a USB Drive already).

I use a password management program that keeps a list of site names, usernames and passwords securely by encrypting the words. There are many such programs available. Some of them are free and some must be purchased. (See list below) I have tried several of the free versions which work just fines. To use these programs you only need to remember one password that you type into the login screen to gain access to your encrypted list. In the past, this solution only worked on one computer. But now that USB thumb drives have become so cheap and USB ports are on almost all computers the software and the list of passwords can be stored on a USB drive and carried wherever you go. The USB drive can even be attached to your key chain so you never leave home without it.

  1. Get a USB drive ( you may have one kicking around or you can purchase one for less than $10)
  2. Get a for password management program. I use Password Safe. It is FREE and can be downloaded at (
  3. Download the program to your computer then save a copy of the file to the USB drive
  4. Install the program on your computer. Just double click on the downloaded file and it will install in a few seconds
  5. Start the program. It asks you for a Password that will be used to access your list of password. (Choose a good password! You only have to remember this one)
  6. Now enter all of your accounts, passwords and usernames to the list and save the list to the USB drive
  7. Close the program

Now anytime you need the password for a site, open the program, (or leave it open on your desktop) and get the information you need. When you leave, take the USB drive with you. Then you have all your passwords for whatever computer you use. Just plug the USB Drive in, install the software on that computer and access your password list. Don't worry it is secure and the list stays on your USB Drive.

Now you will never be without all your passwords and they will be safe and secure.

Other Benefits

  • These programs often have a feature that will generate a good secure and hard to crack password, this is a great feature that will save you time a give you more security.
  • These programs will track when you last changed your passwords. Again great feature for added security
  • Now that you always carry it, You can keep other important files on the USB drive and take them wherever you go (resume, task lists, etc.)

One more note, you should occasionally save a copy of the password list file onto your computer. Should you lose your USB drive you will still have a copy of all your passwords.

Other Programs

PasswordSafe- This program is free and is the one I use. It enables you to group site into categories. It also allows you to copy and paste usernames and passwords to login forms on the internet to cut down on typing you have to do while surfing.

4UOnly- This is also a free program that enables you to print out your login information. This is very handy if you keep the print out in a safe place. It features Drag and drop of passwords and usernames into login forms to eliminate retyping.

AnyPassword- I have not used this myself but have heard it works quite well.

Carl Johnson is a real estate consultant in New Hampshire. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Northern New England Real Estate Network and has served as chairperson on the Website Technology committee of the GMNBR. His site Technology for Everyone gives practical information on using alternative technology at low or no cost.

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