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Wise Tech Tips

Passwords and Password Safety

By James Wise
web posted October 19, 2009
TECH TIPS – In the world of computers, passwords are like the key to your house. Passwords are used for logging on to your computer, checking your email, logging on to various websites including banking sites. With your password, other people could read your mail, send mail or other updates as if they were you, access personal and financial information.

It is very important to use good passwords that only you know. Of course it is also important to remember those passwords. Today, we’ll cover a few recommendations for passwords and introduce one free password manager program (KeePass) that can help you keep up with them.

First, let’s discuss some general guidelines and suggestions
1)    I would suggest using a password for logging on to your system (e.g. a Windows password). There are a number of good reasons for this. If you aren’t using a password now and need to set one up, you can try hitting CTRL+ALT+DEL and using the “change password” option. If you need help with how to setup a logon password, please just email me (EdgefieldTechHelp@gmail.com) and I’ll be happy to help.

2)    Use good passwords. Don’t use something anyone could guess like your name or the name of someone close to you, your birthday, etc… Ideally, don’t use real words at all.
3)    For extra protection, use a combination of at least 8 mixed case letters, numbers, and special characters in your passwords. For example, “U5!xtzH2”
4)    Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. This way, if one password is somehow compromised, the potential damage is limited.
5)    Change all of your passwords with some frequency (i.e. every 3 months). And when I say change, I mean to something completely new, not just adding 1 to the end of the password.
6)    Don’t write down your password in an unsecure location. Too often, I’ve seen people write a password down and put it under the keyboard or even on a sticky note on the monitor. If your computer is in a bank vault and no one else has access to it, this may be okay but obviously there can be problems otherwise.
7)    Don’t share your password with others. If there is some reason you absolutely have to do this, be very careful about what you share with who and change the password when possible. 

So, how do you keep up with all these random and unique passwords? There are several options here. I’ve heard some people suggest writing them down and putting them in your wallet. That is okay but I worry about losing my wallet. You could store them in a document on your computer but then what happens if someone is able to access your computer somehow and obtain that document? Personally, I think the best solution might be to use “password manager” software.

I use a free program for this called KeePass which is a favorite for many people. You can find information about this program and download it from http://keepass.info/. Basically, you create a new database using file, new (make sure you have a backup copy of this file). Then, you establish one “master password” to access the passwords in the program and you create entries for all the various passwords you have. When you need to use a username/password, you can read it from this list, drag it to a username/password box on a web page.

One feature I like is “auto type”. With this, you can open a web site from KeePass and then press CTRL+V to send the username and password to that site.

KeePass can also suggest a secure password for you very easily by simply pressing the “generate a password” button next to password box when creating a new entry.

In a future tech tip, we’ll take a much more detailed look at this program. So stay tuned and keep your doors locked with good password usage!


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