How to Build Better Passwords – Part 3
Last time I talked about using a passphrase and employing a mnemonic trick to make it easy to remember. While this is a good way to build a strong password that’s between 20 to 30 characters long, it would be tough to remember 10 to 20 unique passphrases for your various online accounts. Furthermore, simply reusing a passphrase for all of your accounts is, as mentioned in Part 1, a very bad idea. If someone cracks your one passphrase, then he gets access to all your online accounts.
So, instead of writing down your passphrases in a notebook or on different post-it notes, or saving it in a text file or a Word document, let’s take a look at the next best thing: password managers.
WHAT ARE PASSWORD MANAGERS
Password management software helps users securely store and maintain their passwords on their desktop PC, mobile device, in the cloud, or in all three. While password managers differ in features and services, they all have the following in common:
- Organization – Lets you classify and group your passwords for easy reference, allowing you to sort and search them for easier viewing. For example, you can group passwords under certain categories like email accounts, bank accounts, online forums, etc.
- Generation – Allows for the dynamic creation of a random password. Aside from letting you determine the password length, today’s password managers let you choose whether to use only alphabetic characters or mix in numeric and special characters as well. If you are going to use this feature, then you will no longer need to create your own passphrase or password and remember it. On the other hand, it is recommended that you create and memorize the single password or passphrase for the password manager itself. To build a strong password, read Part 2 of this series on How to Build Better Passwords.
- Encryption – Converts passwords to unreadable text using complex algorithms. This prevents unauthorized people from using your password even if they are able to intercept data transmitted from your network.
Password managers have implemented some advanced features to further give consumers peace of mind as well as a way to conveniently store, retrieve and use their passwords online. However, these features are not common to all applications; that is to say, some have them and some don’t.
- Browser Integration. Some password security software, like LastPass and Dashlane, install browser plugins to let users quickly access their password database. The three most popular browsers supported are Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
- Automatic Form-Filling. In addition to login credentials, users can also store other data like credit card information, social security number, office or school identification details, and the like. Then, when filling out an online form, users can simply have the password app automatically fill in the required information.
- Mobile versions. This is a feature that you should be looking for if you are planning to buy or use a free password management service. As mobile devices get more powerful each day, more people are starting to use smartphones and tablets to check their emails, surf the internet, make an online purchase, etc.
- Database Synchronization. If you use both the desktop and mobile version of a password management app, then it is imperative that it has a sync feature that updates your password database whenever changes are made to it from either your PC or smartphone. Note however that automatic database synchronization uses cloud services. So if you do not want to entrust your personal information to a third party that uses the cloud, you will have to manually copy and overwrite your password database each time on either your mobile device or your desktop computer.
Using password management software is a must if you have a lot of passphrases to remember. And if you are always on the road, you will find that a password management app is a great convenience and time saver. However, as mentioned earlier, if you are skeptical of letting a third party host your personal data in the cloud, then choose one that gives you more administrative control.
To help you get started, we have reviewed three password manager apps:
Each of these has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let us know which one you like or recommend an alternative by leaving a comment below.