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Why Haven’t You Organized Your Passwords?

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Why Haven’t You Organized Your Passwords?

Keys

    In my work with clients I have run into passwords in all kinds of unbelievably random and insecure places. I always shrink back from them when I see them… I don’t want to know! Passwords are the key to unimaginable ruin in the wrong hands, and it consistently shocks me how careless people are with this information. (It’s just as bad as how often I see people who don’t do computer backups!)

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    “I don’t need to have a system… I have one password I use for everything.”
    Think again. I know of a person in my area whose Yahoo e-mail password was compromised, and once the thief infiltrated his e-mail account he used forgotten password functi

      ons on other websites to unlock many more (they were just emailed right to him!). Since the thief quickly realized that the same password had been used for everything, it was a piece of cake for all accounts to be penetrated. By the time the victim discovered the breach, all hell had broken loose, involving eBay, PayPal, and $32,000 of merchandise about to be shipped to Africa… no kidding.

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      Lessons learned: Use a very strong password to protect your e-mail account, guard it fiercely, and use different passwords to avoid one compromising all of the others.

      You also need to be mindful of being hit by the proverbial bus. Would important people know how to get this information if something happened to you? Make sure that you do have a system and that someone else knows how to access it in an emergency.

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      Electronic Password Keepers
      There are many great database applications made for storing passwords. A previous Lifehack article by Leo Babauta lists ten free apps you can use, but I like SplashID, which costs $20, is available for both Mac and PC, and synchronizes its desktop component with almost all major PDA platforms. I really like having my information with me, securely encrypted, when I am away from my desk. Whatever application you choose, DON’T use a Word or Excel document for this purpose (especially one named “PASSWORDS”) that can be easily infiltrated.

      Along with passwords and other login information, I also enjoy using the SplashID database for keeping many other data tidbits, such as software licensing information, identification numbers like my family’s Social Security numbers, my cars’ VIN numbers, computer support information and service tags, and frequent flyer program numbers.

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      Paper-Based Password Keepers
      Some people are reluctant to use electronic solutions, and if so, you can either repurpose an address book or use a 3×5” index card file. (I am sure our loyal readers will have a few suggestions, too.) There are also a few products on the market now that are made just for this purpose, such as the Internet Password Organizer. It’s basically a black, nondescript book with laminated alphabetical index tabs like an address book, but the printed fields are tailored to computer-related needs.

      Tips on Paper-Based Systems:

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      • Use a pencil to write down your entries as they may change.
      • Don’t label your card file box or password keeper book with the word “PASSWORDS!” Keep it on the down-low.
      • You may want to write down the passwords as “hints” instead of the actual passwords, in case your password keeper is lost or compromised. For a password like “fido1995,” you might write a hint like “dog+year” that you’ll definitely remember.
      • If you use index cards, they have more room to write other details about the account, such as logs of customer service notes or order dates.
      • Do NOT write password hints that are relative to other accounts, like “same as Amazon,” because that can become a big cross-referencing mess quickly when you change the referred-to accounts.

      On a final note, PLEASE do not use your birthday or your children’s names any more! (See this previous Lifehack article on how to create strong passwords.) Whether your system is electronic or paper, one of the best advantages of having a system is that you can use even more secure passwords and change them up, since you are no longer relying on your own memory.

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      Last Updated on November 25, 2021

      Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

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      Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

      With all of the recent online services and companies falling under attack to hackers in the past few months, it seems only fitting to talk about password creation and management. There are a lot of resources out there discussing this, but it never hurts to revisit this topic time and again because of its importance.

      Password management isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do, yet it does seem like a bit of an annoyance to most people. When it comes to password management, you will hear the famous line, “I don’t really care about changing my passwords regularly. I have nothing important online anyways.” Let’s see if you have nothing important online when your PayPal account gets taken over because you thought the password “password” was good enough.

      In my opinion, it is an “internet user’s” responsibility to make sure that they keep secure passwords and update them on a regular basis. In this article we will discuss how to make your online presence more secure and keep it secure.

      The easy fundamentals

      First thing is first; creating a strong password.

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      A strong password is a mixture of alpha-numeric characters and symbols, has a good length (hopefully 15 characters or longer), and doesn’t necessarily represent some word or phrase. If the service you are signing up for doesn’t allow passwords over a certain length, like 8 characters, always use the maximum length.

      Here are some examples of strong passwords:
      * i1?,2,2\1′(:-%Y
      * ZQ5t0466VC44PmJ
      * mp]K{ dCFKVplGe]PBm1mKdinLSOoa (30 characters)

      And not so good examples
      * sammy1234
      * password123
      * christopher

      You can check out PC Tools Password Generator here. This is a great way to make up some very strong passwords. Of course the more random passwords are harder to remember, but that is where password management comes into play.

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      Managing your passwords

      I know some people that keep their passwords in an unencrypted text file. That’s not a good idea. I suppose that if you aren’t doing much online and are decent at avoiding viruses and such, it could be OK, but I would never recommend it.

      So, where do you keep your strong passwords for all the services that you visit on a daily basis?

      There are a ton of password safes out there including KeePass, RoboForm, Passpack, Password Safe, LastPass, and 1Password. If and when I recommend any of these I always count on LastPass and 1Password.

      Both LastPass and 1Password offer different entry types for online services logins (PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.), credit cards and bank accounts, online identities, and other types of sensitive information. Both have excellent reviews and only differ in a few subtle ways. One of the ways that is more notable is that LastPass keeps your encrypted password Vault online where 1Password allows you to keep it locally or shared through Dropbox. Either way, you are the holder of the encryption keys and both ways are very secure.

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      LastPass and 1Password both offer cross-platform support as well as support for Android and iOS (LastPass even has BlackBerry support). 1Password is a little pricey ($39.99 for either Windows or Mac) where LastPass has free options as well as premium upgrades that allow for mobile syncing.

      Upkeep

      You should probably change your passwords for your “important” accounts at least every 6 weeks. When I say “important” accounts I am referring to ones that you just couldn’t imagine losing access to. For me that would be Gmail, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, all my FTP accounts and hosting accounts, Namecheap, etc. Basically these include any account where financial information could be lost or accessed as well as accounts that could be totally screwed up (like my webserver).

      There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should change your passwords, but 6 to 8 weeks should be pretty good.

      Alternatives

      You may think that all of this is just too much to manage on a daily basis. I will admit it is kind of annoying to have to change your passwords and use a password manager on a daily basis. For those people out there that don’t want to go through all of the hub-bub of super-secure, encrypted, password management, here are a few tips to keep you safe:

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      1. Create a unique and hard to guess “base password” and then a pattern to use for each site you logon onto. For instance a base password could be “Ih2BaSwAa” (this stands for “I have two brothers and sisters who are annoying”). Then you would add something “site specific” to the end of it. For Twitter Ih2BaSwAaTWTTR, Facebook Ih2BaSwAaFCBK, etc. This is sort of unsecure, but probably more secure than 99% of the passwords out there.
      2. Don’t write your passwords down in public places. If you want to keep track of passwords on something written, keep it on you at least. The problem is that if you get your wallet stolen you are still out of luck.
      3. Don’t use the same passwords for every service. I’m not even going to explain this; just don’t do it.

      These are just a few things that can be done rather than keeping your passwords in a management system. Personally, with over 100 entries in my password management system, I couldn’t even dream of doing any other way. But those out there with only a few passwords, having a simpler system may be beneficial.

      So, if you want to be a “responsible internet citizen” or you just don’t want to lose your precious account data, then creating and maintaining strong passwords for your online accounts is a must.

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