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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.

There's also a version for the iPhone, and it's possible to load RoboForm onto a USB drive and take it with you for use on public computers. The company says the USB version leaves no traces behind.

If you use RoboForm do not forget your master password-it is not recoverable. Although password recovery is a common feature on many Web sites, Siber Systems decided that enhanced security was more important than potential inconvenience.

Tools for Mac Users By the company's own admission, RoboForm doesn't work very well on a Mac (that's supposed to change next year) but a similar program called 1Password ($39.95) from Agile Web Solutions, offers many of the same features for use on Apple hardware. I haven't tried it out, but it's earned good reviews and gets nod from Forrester's Jaquith. Users of various versions of the Mac OS can also take advantage of a built-in feature called Keychain that offers password management on a single machine.

Another option that's similar to RoboForm, Callpod's $29.95 Keeper utility, comes in versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux users (The vendor offers a 15-day free trial.) A separate mobile Keeper version serves iPhone and iPod touch users.

A Free Trick or Two Don't want to spend money?

You could simply put your passwords in a password-protected file. If you use Microsoft Word, it's easy. Simply go to Tools, then Options and click the security tab. You'll have the option to require a password to open the file, or just to modify it. If you're traveling, you can put that file on a USB drive. But don't forget that password. If there's a backdoor that will let you recover the file without it, I haven't heard about it. Warning: Many security gurus, such as Bruce Schneier, don't advocate keeping this type of file on your PC.

Most browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, can automatically fill in forms and passwords for you. That's certainly helpful and if you're certain that no one else has access to your computer, it's not terribly risky. However, if your teenager or someone else does use your computer, you could be in trouble.

A simple solution is to delete saved passwords and forms when you get done. In Firefox, for example, go to "Tools," "Options" and then the security tab and look for the "saved passwords" button. Click it and a list of saved passwords and usernames opens up. Simply delete all or some of them. Other browsers have similar features.

Also remember that public computers are often infected with malware, including keyloggers that copy everything you type. Password managers defeat them, since the password is not actually typed on the page.


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