Not too long ago, I was able to memorize passwords. Like many people, I used a common set of passwords and had “tiers”.
There came a point when I suddenly stopped being able to memorize passwords. While I wish I could blame aggressive password policies, the reality is that there simply started to be too many to remember. It coincided about the same time that I signed onto Twitter, because around then I also signed up for services like Dropbox, WordPress, and continued to post on forums at ArsTechnica. It started to become a mess – I was resetting my Facebook password every time I visited the site (which is probably about twice a week) and every time I wanted to post a comment on Ars Technica. It was rather ridiculous.
In addition to managing passwords, I had to know them – I had an iPad (and now an iPhone) and if I need to check some online cloud-based service using one of them, I have to be able to access my passwords. I think the final straw was when I forgot my Mastercard Secure Code, had to reset it twice (I forgot the password as soon as I hung up the phone with the bank) and consequently ended up accidentally ordering four rice cookers from NewEgg. Fortunately they were willing to RMA them without a restocking fee, but it was a large hassle to even have to deal with that.
Buying into Password Manager Software
I eventually caved and bought into the Password Manager tools. I had heard about these here and there for a few years but had never really tried them. I caved and tried 1Password (they’re a Canadian company, actually).
I must say that the simplification that using a Password Manager affords is immense and is extremely reassuring. I now get to keep one main password in my head and I can make it as complicated as I want. In the meantime, the other ones are kept secured (and encrypted). I sync the accounts across Dropbox, and I can use both my iPad and iPhone to access them.
For those of you who don’t want to spend the money of 1Password (it’s about $50 but there are occasional promotions – I got an educational discount as well as an iSlayer coupon code; the iOS version is $20) I’ve heard of free, open-source alternatives like KeePass. Though I haven’t used it myself, it works across multiple platforms including Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. It’s not really the specific software that counts, but the mere idea of using software to manage your hundreds of logins that reduces your cognitive load significantly.
Less Security? Maybe More?
One concern that you might have is that keeping one password instead of many is less secure than memorizing a few. This might be the case until you forget them. The problem with having to frequently recover passwords is then you’re simply using your email client as a very inefficient password manager – you’re asking the site to send you a password and then you’re using the email account’s password to keep track of things for you.
Just skip the middle man!
The alternative situation is that if you don’t know your online banking or credit card passwords, you have to call them and verify your information. This is inconvenient and time consuming, and can actually be a security risk for yourself because if you happen to be on the phone in a public place, someone might listen in on your call and catch a little too much information about you.
Manage Data, Not Just Passwords
In addition to managing passwords, 1Password also keeps data secure and encrypted too, which is a nice little benefit. I have started to put receipts and other data there, not because they’re so valuable that they need encryption, but because it’s a convenient place to look when you think, “Ah hah, I need to recover this important document.”
One of the benefits of using a Password Manager is that it integrates with the major browsers through the use of Add-ons. Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer have compatible extensions for 1Password. The system recognizes if you’re logging in or registering for web sites and automatically adds an entry for that web site.
Do you need to create a new password? The system has a password generation tool that you can use to create a password without the effort of having to come up with something.
While there are some limitations with the page login (it doesn’t automatically work on many financial web site logins because they are multi-stage), you can still check the passwords manually if you can’t remember them. Overall, the convenience outweighs the few situations where it does not work exactly as intended.
The 1Password tool also synchronizes using DropBox. Quite simply, it means that I can keep the same database across multiple computers and even on my mobile phone
Overall, I recommend the shift to Password Management Software. The simplicity that switching has afforded me has reduced my overall stress level immensely.
Another alternative that I use is “LastPass”. Their annual fee is just $12 and interface is pretty simple.