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Issue #555: March 11-17, 2018

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Q: What is your favorite ‘password keeper’ app? and Why?

 – Jeri R.
Midland, Texas

A: Well now, Jeri, you’re trying to get this unpaid, freelance columnist/Geek to endorse a product, but that’s something that I’ve said since the very first edition of It’s Geek To Me published in July of 2007 that I would not do.  I’m happy to do reviews if vendors want to send me product samples (hint, hint, vendors!) but I don’t really feel like I should stake my name and reputation (if I even have one) on any one particular brand of something when there are labs out there that actually get paid to put products through their paces and offer a semi-scientific analysis, rather than an unobjective opinion.  Don’t feel bad though, you’re not the only one who asks me about my favorite of this or that.  Why, just  a few weeks ago, during my appearance at the 2018 Northwest Florida Computer Expo, one of the attendees at my Q&A session asked me a very similar question; in that case, which password manager do I use?  Because I’m such an honest Geek, I had to admit that I don’t currently use a password manager at all.  However, that’s not because I don’t think they are a great idea for managing passwords.  They’re just not a perfect fit for me, and the way I use my systems. 

If you care to take a peek into the column archives over on ItsGeekToMe.co, you’ll find password managers discussed in at least two past column, specifically, I.G.T.M. #439, December 20, 2015, and I.G.T.M. #492, December 25, 2016.  In these columns I did discuss particular password managers, but that was because the readers writing-in asked about specific products by name.  In your case, I think I’d rather tell you about the features that would make any particular password manager my favorite, so that when you go to consider them, you can make sure the one you choose has those features.

An obvious first step is making sure the software meets the needs of all your devices.  If you have a PC and an Android tablet, make sure it works on both.  Same if you have a Mac and an iPad.  The implementation should be relatively seamless, and automatically sync across all your devices.  Next, check what kind of encryption the product uses to store the list of passwords that it’s managing for you.  After all, it wouldn’t be very secure if it just kept them in a human-readable list.  Look for words like “AES 256-bit” which is a high-level encryption such as that used by banking institutions and governments.

The product should automatically generate super-strong passwords for you, rather than making you supply them, or even pick them.  In the ultimate scenario using a password manager, you yourself wouldn’t even know the passwords, because you would trust the password manager to handle it all for you.  When properly set-up, the only password you should have to remember is the one for the password manager itself.

Make sure the product handles a broad implementation of password applications.  By that I mean make sure it can deal with passwords everywhere you use them, including logging in to the computer, establishing Wi-Fi, inside any application programs, and especially on the huge diversity of websites that require logins.  This is where a good password manager really shines, and offers the most bang for the buck over trying to manage passwords yourself, as it will generate unique, difficult to guess or crack passwords, whereas people tend to use familiar such things as the names of kids or pets, birthdays or keyboard patterns, and think they’re fooling hackers (hint: they’re not!).

Finally, make sure the password manager you choose is capable of maintaining the fleet of passwords for which it’s responsible.  It should be able to perform periodic, automatic updates to passwords, say every 90 days.

The rigors of good password management in the modern age have slipped past simply being a good idea to becoming downright mandatory if you want to protect your personal information and your identity.  It’s just too complicated for people to do a proper job by manually tracking them, so they end up using words like PASSWORD or QWERTY as a password, and/or using the same password for multiple sites.  A good password manager will put an end to all that, and make you far more secure as you navigate your online life.

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