Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Keeping Track of Passwords

How to Juggle Dozens of Unique Usernames and Passwords

If you spend any amount of time online these days, it can be a challenge to keep track of all your passwords. A Web-savvy user who logs onto their corporate computer every morning, does some Web research, saves a few items to an online bookmarking service, signs into instant messenger and then looks on the company intranet could easily be juggling a half-dozen unique user names and passwords. So how do you keep it all straight without resorting to easily cracked (if easily memorable) passwords?

There are a few solutions, from the high tech to the very low. On the low end of the scale, you can just write your user names and passwords down in a notebook – fine if you’re only worried about online theft, but dangerous if that notebook were ever to be lost, destroyed, or stolen.

Similarly, you can keep a simple text file on your desktop listing Web site names, user names, and passwords – but it means you’ll have to shuttle back and forth between your browser and the text file whenever you need to enter a password.

The Firefox browser has a built-in password manager that users can activate in order to automatically fill in saved usernames and passwords on their associated Web sites.  If you use this feature, all your passwords are stored in Firefox but are only accessible after you enter in a “master password.” This can be very useful – if you have a master password that’s both easy to remember and difficult to crack. About a year ago, some media outlets started reporting a vulnerability in Firefox’s password manager that exposed all of a user’s passwords to certain public sites. While that has since been fixed, it’s a reminder that convenience can come at a cost.

And on the highest-tech end of the spectrum, numerous commercially available software password managers can encrypt and keep track of your user names and passwords securely. Ultimately, the right solution for you will be the one that you're most likely to use every day -- not necessarily the fanciest, expensive, or complex one.


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