How to manage your passwords

It might be said that if you are not managing your passwords, your passwords are managing you.

Sadly, the password as we know it today, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a smooth integration of technology into our daily lives.

It is a common pain-point and failure point. It is the curse-inducing bane of our digital lives that refuses to die.

The problem with passwords

Consider a banking app on your smartphone. If you could just tap the icon on the Home screen and go directly to your account information, that would be more convenient. But such convenience is deemed unsafe by the banks, which mostly insist you put in a password before you can access your account.

That is only the beginning. Once you have chosen a password, you are told that it is not secure enough. As it turns out, your favorite pet’s name is a lousy password. Here’s why, in no particular order:

  1. It is a common word that can be found in a dictionary
  2. It is too short
  3. It has to have at least one capital letter
  4. It has to have at least one number
  5. It might require a special symbol, some symbols not permitted
  6. It can’t have repeating letters or numbers
  7. It can’t be anything you have previously used as a password for that service

Once you have crafted an acceptable password, you realise that you have no hope of ever remembering it.

In a fit of desperation, you do the only thing you can think of: the worst possible thing you could do. You write it down on a Post-it note and stick it on the side of your monitor, along with all your other impossible to remember passwords. Ironically, passwords are making us even more insecure.

Password Managers

Even this may not be a deal breaker if it wasn’t for the fact that you have to repeat this process for every service, every app, every website that has access to your sensitive information.

That is just about all of them. You don’t just have one password you can’t remember; you have dozens of them. The experts say that you should never use the same password for two different things.

To help us with this password crisis is a new category of services and apps called password managers. They all work a little differently, but the upshot is that you place all your passwords in a single cloud repository.

When you get to a place where you have to put in your password, the service kicks in and does it for you. That way, you don’t have to try to remember them.

TrendMicro offers a model that starts at $14.99 (around £10) a year, and lets you store an unlimited number of passwords that you can use on any device, and every major platform: Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. You can even use it on public computers like you would find in libraries.

That is a huge contrast over something like 1Password which charges separately for each platform. You will pay one price for using it on Windows, and another license payment for use on the Mac. iOS and Android are also separate. Apple has its own solution for its devices for free, but it only works on Apple devices.

Beyond Passwords

The only good passwords are the ones you cannot easily remember. Once you do have a decent password that you know, you have to change it periodically. This is especially true in a corporate environment.

Because passwords are insufficient protection, we are encouraged to use a strong passcode for unlocking our phones. We should also have a passcode for logging into our computers.

Forgetting one of those can get you locked out of your device. Let’s not forget about two-factor authentication. The number and types of locks we can put on our digital lives feel like overkill.

Ultimately, the solution is not in the production of ever better locks. For every good lock, there is an even better lock pick. What we need is better law enforcement that treats hackers like criminals instead of folk heroes.

Until then, try a password manager.