How to manage secure and unforgettable passwords
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Not so long ago I had several problems with my passwords at almost the same time. The worse problems were with the passwords I had forgotten and couldn't recover quickly. This awful episode in password management made me realise that I had to take the matter seriously and couldn't count only on my memory to remember the dozens of passwords I need to type everyday. I also noticed that my e-mail password was not very secure. With access to my e-mail, anyone could reset all my other passwords including my own e-mail and basically take control of many accounts I have. Remember that when you request a new passwords many sites will send a password or link to your e-mail. The long and the short of it, I decided to investigate the best way to make a secure and unforgettable password.
Usually there is a correlation between passwords that are easy to remember and easy to be guessed. Avoid passwords like 123456, abc123, qwerty, birthdays, dog names or any other information that can be guessed by someone who knows just a little bit about you. These are probably the first passwords that an intruder will try. To enhance security, it is also recommended to change your password every once in a while just to be sure that even if somebody guesses your password, it won't be valid forever. If your passwords follow a pattern, even if you change your passwords, it's easy to guess what the next will be. So what's the best solution?
The first tip to have a perfect password came from this xkcd cartoon that explains how to create passwords that are easy to remember but hard to be guessed.
The idea is to create sentences instead of creating meta-words. To improve even more your password security you can also add caps on the first letters and a number at the end. With a password like this it gets very hard to guess it.
It's also not a good idea to use the same password on every account you have. The reason is that each site has its own security standards and some sites are not as secure as others. If your password is the same for all of them, one insecure site will make all your accounts potentially vulnerable.
The second step is to use a password manager to keep all your passwords in an encrypted database. To do this I found that KeePass is very complete and convenient. KeePass is a Free Software able to generate and store passwords safely. Basically, KeePass will ask a master password with which it will encrypt your data. On this database you will generate and store secure passwords that you can then use on websites (or any other password you want). Notice on the image below that, if you prefer, you can also create a file to decrypt your database. If you prefer to keep a key rather than memorising a password, put the file in a pen drive and keep it in a safe place. Your pen drive will become a true digital key.
Once you connect to your database you can start to put all your passwords to never forget them in the future. KeePass not only stores passwords safely but it can also generate random passwords with a desired security level. This way you won't need to scratch your head to create a good password given that the software will give you secure suggestions. I thought I'd never want to use random passwords but with KeePass everything is easy. Today I only use passwords generated by KeePass and I can be sure they have a fair security level. Notice that even when you log into your database, your passwords are not displayed on the screen. The passwords appear as a sequence of asterisks and you can view one by one according to your needs.
If you forget to close the program it will lock itself automatically after a given period of time. To see the passwords again you need to type in the master password once again.
Then you can create categories to separate, let's say, your credit card password from a door lock.
Finally, KeePass runs on Linux, Windows and Macs so you will always be able to access your passwords on whichever platform you have available. You only have to take with you the encrypted database and open it on a computer that has KeePass installed. Be careful not to put the file that unlocks the database and the database on the same pen drive! That would be a big security breach!
I'm quite happy with the management of my passwords this way and I recommend to everybody the use of such a method. Those who never had a problem with their password, will certainly have one day. That's what happened to me before using these tips!