Passwords. Maybe this is a future topic for you, because it’s closely related to backing up.
Why don’t you poll your readers: How do people remember their passwords? Let alone user names.
If you do as the experts say, and use regularly changing random strings of characters, how can you possibly remember them? I can’t. I have trouble typing them in correctly even if I’m looking at them — esp. if as I type it produces only a string of little black balls on the monitor.
User names are just as bad, because there are so many different format rules: Just type in your name. All lower case. No spaces. 8 characters max. My name is already taken, so I have to add a few numbers.
For several years, I had one password and I used it for everything.
Then I came up with different passwords for each thing. I kept a list of the service, my user name, and the password I chose. I taped this list to my monitor, but it keeps getting longer and longer. And I’m still never changing them. This list is at the office, so if I need a password when using my home computer, I can’t remember it.
Then I sign up for some new service or blog or whatever, write that new user name and password on a scrap of paper, then lose it before it gets added to the “master list.” I’ve stopped using a number of internet services because I lost the password and it’s just too much hassle to retrieve it.
Now I’ve entered my list into my computer, so it’s accessible and editable any place I can get to my files. (No, hackers, it’s not in a file named “Passwords.”) But of course the computer must be on—and working, and it must be accessed from one of my computers.
I’m surely not the only password dunderhead.
How do others handle all this?
Passwords certainly qualify as critical data you don’t want to lose, though many websites will let you re-set them if you can answer a security question. Taping a list of passwords onto your computer monitor is certainly not the most secure way to store them.
Not only is using the same password for everything not a good idea, it just isn’t possible, for the reasons Mike outlined: different sites have different rules about what constitutes an acceptable password.
I do have a handful of passwords I can remember which I use for more than one thing, but remembering which password I’ve used for which site can be a challenge.
For years I’ve used a very basic, simple password storage program called “Password Prompter.” How basic? I first got it when I was using Windows 95. You enter a password to open the program, then create entries for your different logins and passwords. I just have Karen’s Replicator copy the whole directory in order to back it up.
There are dozens of password storage utilities out there. Some of them are even free. Access Manager Professional lets you back up your passwords to two separate locations, simultaneously. KeePass is a sophisticated open-source program which uses strong encryption, requires no installation, imports from other programs, and fits on a USB stick.
And speaking of USB sticks, I went out and bought a U3 flash drive so I could learn more about it. (You may remember that I mentioned this a few weeks ago.) I’ve been playing with it while writing this. There are actually a few different password management programs available for U3. I opted for the free SignUpShield, but I’m thinking I may just copy my trusty Password Prompter (which, like KeePass, requires no installation and takes up very little space) onto the memory stick instead. It will save re-entering passwords.
There are also backup programs for U3. The one I installed is called “Disk Hero.” And guess what it asks for as soon as you start it? Yes, a password. Once you enter that and an e-mail address, it sets up an account for you online and gives you options for what to back up. You can back up your whole U3 drive, just your data, or even files from the “guest PC” (the machine the U3 drive is connected to). The U3 version of the program comes with 2 GB free storage—more space than is on my U3 drive.
The point of having a U3 drive is to be able to duplicate the experience of working on your own computer by having your programs, contacts, etc with you. You can just about automate that by paying for the Migo software, but there are plenty of free programs which will let you store contacts and bookmarks and check your mail.
Given that there’s so much sensitive data on a U3 drive, it’s a good thing you can password-protect it! Use a strong password as the main key to the drive. That means nothing you can find in the dictionary: include numbers and characters like #, -, *.
I like to use Mycenaean Greek as a source for passwords, because Linear B is transliterated with hyphens between symbols. Even if you take the hyphens out, the spelling isn’t quite the same as for Classical or Modern Greek, and not very many people know Greek to begin with, so the likelihood anyone will guess these passwords is small.
Failing knowledge of obscure languages, you can use a password generator to give you a complex, random password. Then set yourself to memorize it.
Feel free to share your favorite password-management tips in the comments.