TECH TALK

Tips, tricks and apps for password safety


Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

Password. While it can symbolize the very fabric of our connected generation, it can also feel like an 8-letter expletive. They are frustrating indeed, and dangerous, considering most of us cheat by having various forms of the same basic password.

The possibilities are downright scary. It's not just getting your Facebook hacked with awkward timeline posts that would make mom blush but downright identity theft. Countless folks like you and me have lost everything because of bad password management.

You know the typical suggestions: keep it simple enough to remember but impossible to figure out. Like that makes sense. Don't use birthdays or Social Security numbers, but do use things like the inverse address of your former best friend's neighbor. Perhaps it's just me, but sometimes I have to stop to remember my current address.

It's an impossible proposition.

Especially when you consider just how many passwords it takes to get from one day to the next. Sometimes it makes me want to move in with the Clampetts long before Jed struck that Texas tea and moved to Beverly Hills. You know that shack.

Since Green Acres is not the place for me, I have ironically looked to the tech world to solve my tech problem, namely apps that not only generate passwords that would make Fort Knox envious, but also store them across all your devices.

Sounds like heaven, does it not? OK, Utopia if that's your persuasion.

Browser: While this is not necessarily a solution, it probably took me a decade before I realized that tucked away in my browser's preferences is a list of saved websites and passwords. While generally I type "don't allow" when asked to save passwords, you'd be surprised how many can be listed here, which is great in a pinch and scary if somebody snatched your laptop.

1Password: This popular password manager starts with a vault locked with a master password and pin. Once behind the front door, you can list all your passwords alphabetically or use a secure browser that contains all the stored passwords for each site. Other features include a virtual wallet for credit card numbers and sensitive information as well as the ability to sync between desktop and mobile devices. Aesthetically she's a beaut, especially for iOS, but the Android version is quickly catching up. At $17.99, you could probably buy a safe on Craigslist.

Wolfram Alpha Password Generator: Are you a "weak" password creator? This 99-cent darling might be right up your alley. You can choose based on various factors like length, character, upper/lower-case or numbers. It will generate up to 100 options at a time and even test your own creations for weaknesses.

LastPass: Perhaps the most robust of the options, even if its appearance does not compare to the elegant 1Password interface.

With this solution, your password database is encrypted and you get the only key. Decryption happens locally on your computer so even if their servers got hacked, thieves could not access any of your sensitive data.

At $12 a year, this is no cheap trick, but it's a solid solution.

This represents just a handful of the more popular options. Other workarounds include 2-step verification similar to what Google is offering. Using this process, you log in as normal and wait for a second password to instantly appear on your mobile device to access their services, such as Gmail.

You can imagine the loads of sensitive data a hacker could gain by searching gigs and gigs of archived emails. Also, experts now say you should scrap difficult passwords with characters and use phrases such as "northonI-75" that only you might remember.

Editor's note: Tech Talk is moving to Mondays starting on Feb. 4 as part of our expanded technology coverage. See you there.

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