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Password Management: First Steps Toward Protecting Yourself

It is a given that everyone reading this has too many passwords to manage.  Passwords for devices, passwords for services, for websites and online institutions.  The list of passwords used in modern life might not be endless, but it is certainly too long to keep in our heads, let alone remember all the passwords themselves.  After all, we’re told that we need to make sure every password is at least 8 characters long (or 12, or more, depending on the recommender) and has at least 1 character from each of the four sets of:

1. Uppercase letters

2. Lowercase letters

3. Numbers

4. Special (!,.#^&*…)

Further, passwords must not contain any information related to us (no birthdates, phone numbers, names, schools, etc) or our family members.

In fact, we are told that passwords should be long strings of random characters, unique to each place or thing we use them for and changed frequently.  Finally, no password should ever be recorded, either written down on paper or stored electronically.  Speaking for ourselves, we passed the point of being able to follow all those strong password recommendations around a decade ago, when we had only a couple of dozen to remember. Or rather, we were only able to follow them by using a password manager.

Password managers (PMs) provide an excellent example of using computers for something they do very well – store and retrieve arbitrary data on demand – something we don’t do nearly so well. Rather than depending on the limits of our own overcrowded, overtasked and error-prone brains to generate, keep and recall numerous strings of random characters, we can have the PM do all of that.  We just have to remember the single master password to the PM itself.  Gone are the days of sticky notes on the backs of keyboards and spreadsheets with lists of sites and login credentials, gone the practice of using one password for everything, of using your dog’s name or the street you grew up on or simple generics like “password[1]” or “12345678” to protect your online banking access. 

There are numerous PMs to choose from in a range of costs, including free, and they provide a variety of services in addition to storing your passwords securely. In a day and age of frequent security breaches exposing large-scale collections of our data, the relevant question is not whether or not you should use a password manager, but only which one to choose.

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