09 Jun 2017

The War on Passwords

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Almost every day I come across a personal acquaintance or client who gets frustrated when their smart device or computer suddenly asks them to enter a password.

While most of us can understand why passwords are so necessary, we generally don’t like being locked out of our technology when it suddenly stops working due to an “enter your password” prompt!

So in an attempt to help you be more proactive on how to both create and keep better track of your passwords, I’ve put together a few tips.

Tip No. 1: Creating Passwords

As the comic above by xkcd.com illustrates, many of us have learned to make insecure passwords that are actually EASY for computers to guess but too convoluted to remember as humans. This humorous example illustrates a VERY common method that people use to make their passwords, namely taking a simple word, capitalizing the first letter, possibly substituting common characters with numbers or symbols (like zeros for o’s, or @ for a’s etc), and then finishing it all off with a number or two. Sound familiar? Well, that’s the problem, if you can think of a password or two where you have used this method (or something similar) chances are those passwords are not very secure. So when creating a new password, keep the following points in mind:

  • Don’t reuse passwords (I know it’s tempting just don’t do it!)
  • Avoid common letter-symbol substitutions (it’s not clever or original)
  • Try combining multiple random words to make a password more memorable (especially if you can use the words to create a silly or possibly inappropriate mental image like in the comic above – a trick made famous by the Greeks btw)
  • Keep notes on the password, including what it is for and possible answers to security questions in case you forget them.

Tip No. 2: Organizing your Passwords in an App

There are lots of ways you can keep track of passwords, but in my opinion inside your head is NOT the best place to do so. While good an old-fashioned notebook or sticky note can KINDA work, you’ll eventually lose it, or forget to have it around when you need it. Furthermore, if you actually manage to keep the same handwritten list for any significant amount of time, you will have so many illegible revisions (or just bad handwriting as in my case) that deciphering such cuneiform characters can be just as frustrating as forgetting the password in the first place!

Thankfully, there is a slew of different Programs or Apps that can make the task of Storing LEGIBLE and UP TO DATE Passwords on your smartphone or computer a breeze.

While there are MANY apps around that can be used to help you keep better track of your passwords, here are 3 that I have used both personally and with clients.

  1. A protected Spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers
  2. A secure Note in the default Apple “Notes” app included with every iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
  3. A premium password manager like 1Password

1.1 Using Microsoft Excel

Create your spreadsheet with your desired columns like Username, Password, Date, Notes etc

Go to File > Save and in the Save dialogue where you can choose the desired file name and destination, click on the “Options” button.

Then simply choose your password and click “OK”. Now whenever you open this spreadsheet, regardless of device, it will first require the file password to open. NOTE if you forget this ONE password you will not be able to open the spreadsheet.

1.2 Using Apple’s Numbers

In Numbers, build you desired spreadsheet like in the Excel example above, then from the menu choose File > Set Password…

Then simply enter the password and password hint (in case you forget it) and you’re done!

2. The default Apple Notes App

The built-in “Notes” app on all Apple Devices now allows you to Password protect individual notes with ease.

Simply create a new note. Then click on the “Share” button (the box with the arrow coming out of the top in the example below).  

Then choose “Lock Note”

Type in the desired password (along with a hint to help remind you should you forget) and you’re all set!

NOTE: The fine print stating that if you forget this note password you CAN NOT reset it, but the Touch ID is a nice alternative too!

3. Using a premium Password Manager

For years I have personally been using 1Password from AgileBits and it has CHANGED my life. The idea behind this is that I only need to remember ONE AND ONLY ONE password and with that, I can easily access my “vault” of private information quickly and easily across all of my sundry devices. Software Activation Codes, Bike or Padlock combination numbers, you name it, 1Password makes storing it all super easy and safe!

I personally have the stand alone version of 1Password and have been quite happy with it. It used to be that you had to purchase the version for iPhone & iPad in addition to the desktop version (still worth it in my opinion) but now you can download all of the Apps for free within the iOS and Mac App store and simply need to select the “In-app purchase” for the standalone on the computer if you don’t feel like using their monthly subscription plans.

Well, I hope that helps to encourage you to put those pesky passwords in their place and make your “digital” life a little easier. As always, feel free to comment or email me directly if you have any other questions or comments.

Thanks.

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