Manage your passwords without losing your mind

How many do you have? 20? 50? Really, if you use the web much, you’ve lost count. Are they all different? And strong? You can admit it here. You use the same password for every web site, and it’s your dog’s name, right?

There are software solutions that can help you. Using one of these databases, you can generate unique, strong passwords whenever you need them, then securely store them for later use.

KeePass Password Safe is a database that you install on your computer. It’s free and open-source software. You can enter not only passwords, but other secure information into the database. You can then set up KeePass to automatically log you into web sites that you often visit. The entire database is encrypted and protected by a (hopefully strong!) password you define. Yes, with either of the solutions I’ll discuss you’ll need to remember at least one password! There are versions of KeePass available for Blackberry, iPhone and Android, so you can easily carry your passwords with you. I’ve been using KeePass for a number of years and have found it to be quite reliable and useful.

LastPass is a relatively new arrival on the market. It’s a web-based database, so there’s no need to install software on your computer. There is a potential down-side to this. Your passwords are stored in an online database, which could more easily open them up to hacking. On the up-side, LastPass has a staff devoted to making sure your passwords are secure, which won’t be the case if you use something like KeePass on your computer. The real strength of LastPass comes with installing a browser plugin, which is available for all the major browsers. With the plugin installed, LastPass can automatically log you into web forms when you visit sites. LastPass can also recognize when you’re signing up for a new password, and can generate a secure password (stop using your dog’s name!). LastPass can also securely store credit card and identity information for automatically filling in forms on ecommerce sites. Finally, LastPass is also available for most of the major smart phone platforms, so you can take your passwords wherever you go.

I’ve used both of these solutions and would recommend either of them. Implement some form of password database today, start using stronger passwords, stop using your dog’s name, and for god’s sake, stop putting PostIt notes on your monitor with all your important passwords!