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Drowning in passwords: Tips to stay safe and sane

Bill Snyder | Nov. 10, 2009
If you spend much time online, you probably have the same problem I do: How to remember your ever-growing list of online usernames and passwords-and stay secure at the same time.

FRAMINGHAM, 9 NOVEMBER 2009 - Who the heck am I? Am I shopper-Bill, flyer-Bill, reader-Bill, buyer-Bill, potrero-Bill, or this that and the other Bill on the 30 or more sites that comprise my online life? And which of my many passwords do I need right now?

If you spend much time online, you probably have the same problem I do: How to remember your ever-growing list of online usernames and passwords-and stay secure at the same time.

You're savvy enough to know that identity theft and illegal access to personal and financial data are real-world problems that you want to avoid. But what are you doing about it? Odds are, not much, says Andrew Jaquith, a computer security analyst at Forrester Research. "There are two classes of people; those who seem to care about the security of their accounts, and those who act as if they don't." Most people, he says, fall in the later category.

If you're one of the majority, your security strategy may be nothing more than using a single password for every site you need to access. On the one hand, the chances of it being stolen aren't terribly high and you probably won't forget it. But if it is stolen, the malefactor will have access to your entire online life, including bank accounts and maybe medical records. Not a pretty thought.

It turns out that there are a number of strategies that will help you avoid that ugly scenario. Most of them are simple, free or quite inexpensive, and much more secure than what you're doing now. But some are just halfway measures that could let you down in a pinch.

A Password Safe of Sorts Let's start with my favorite. A Windows program called RoboForm, ($29.95) from Siber Systems. RoboForm stores your passwords, usernames, personal information, and the URLs of sites you visit on its secure server. Your information is protected by a master password that you'll enter before logging into a site. The program will then log you in, and automatically fill out the kinds of forms you need to do things when shopping online. If you typically work on two computers, say one at home and one in the office, you can synch the two PCs and have your passwords on both systems.

Until recently, RoboForm suffered from the same flaw that most password managers suffer from:it was useless if you were on a public computer. That's a real problem if you're traveling without your laptop and suddenly realize you have bills to pay via your banking site, or want to make an online trade.

RoboForm Online fixes that. It is however, in beta form, and a bit clunky, requiring a double sign on and a few other minor annoyances. But it does work (based on my try out) and the company expects to have a finished, and presumably more polished, version out within a few months.

 

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