Tech Tips: Creating and remembering passwords
December 24, 2012
I know everyone needs to handle and keep track of lots of passwords. And I know that lots of people use the same password on every site. Is there some way to generate and recall secure passwords without having to write them all down?
Yes, this surely is an issue. Ken's father keeps a very neat Rolodex with all of his passwords sitting next to his computer. This isn't what I would call secure, since anyone who happens to sit down at his desk has access to all his private information! Other folks keep yellow sticky notes all over their monitors with passwords. That's even less secure!
Some people use the same password on every site. The problem in this technique is that anyone that wants to break into your account and steal information from you is aware that lots of people do this, and so once they find a password on one site, they're likely to try it on others. If you're using a "popular" password, it's even worse — these are the first passwords a thief will try to use. (For a list of the current 25 most-popular passwords, check out the article here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/25/tech/web/worst-passwords-2012/index.html.)
There are many products that you can use that will help you both generate and store secure passwords.
Ken's current favorite is a free one named LastPass (www.lastpass.com/). It works as a browser add-in, and you can install it both on Windows and Mac OS X. There's an iOS version for iPhone, and an Android version. It will generate secure passwords for you and store them in encrypted format. Then, when you need to log into a site, you just need to remember your master password to log into LastPass and have it supply passwords for all your saved sites.
Imagine being able to sit down at your computer (or any computer), start working with your Web browser and not have to think about entering each individual password for each site. LastPass.com can do that for you. Check it out — it's a great service. It's free, unless you want premium services (like the ability to use it with a smart phone, and even that service is extremely reasonably priced).
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In addition, LastPass can fill out online forms (such as payment information when you make purchases online), storing your address, credit card and other personal information safely. That's another issue altogether, but it's tied into the same product.
LastPass does store your information on its servers, remotely, which can be both a good thing (your data is always available, no matter what computer you sit down at) and a bad thing (although the data is heavily encrypted, there is a very, very slight chance that some evil-doer could break in and compromise the data). Note that LastPass doesn't store your password, so if you forget your master password, there isn't much they can do for you to recall all your passwords. You can set up a master password hint for yourself, however. If storing your data remotely bothers you, there are other similar applications that keep all the data locally unless you instruct them to do otherwise. KeePass (www.keepass.info/), RoboForm (www.roboform.com/) and 1Password (www.agilebits.com/) all do an excellent job; we just happen to like LastPass more. Try them out and find one that works, but whatever you do, don't use the same password on every site!
Can I get SMS Text messages emailed to me?
Dee uses SMS a lot — for her job, she receives a lot of text messages on her phone. She needs some way to archive those messages and wants them sent to her email address. Is there some way to track SMS messages using email or just have the text messages appear in her email inbox?
Although there are for-pay services that will act as a bridge between SMS/MMS/text messages and email inboxes (see TXTImpact [www.txtimpact.com/], for one), none is free that we know of.
The easiest solution is free, and again, it turns out to be our favorite, Google Voice. (www.google.com/voice).
Google Voice allows you to sign up for a free account and select an incoming voice phone number. One of its many features is that it allows people to send text messages to your Google Voice number, and those text messages can be forwarded to your mobile phone, as standard text messages, and can also be forwarded to your inbox as email.
The trick is convincing people to stop texting you at your direct mobile number but to text you at your Google Voice number, instead. (Actually, the goal would be to stop giving anyone your mobile phone number at all and only give them your Google Voice number. Once you set up your mobile phone with your Google Voice account, you can have calls to your Google Voice number ring on your mobile phone, as well. But that's another issue. You can tell: We love Google Voice. It's free, and it certainly solves this particular problem. If Dee would have people text her only at her Google Voice phone number, all messages would go to her email inbox as well, and her problem would be solved.
Doug Behl and Ken Getzspent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to email@example.com.