Ever print out your passwords just before leaving on a trip? That's not necessary with the right password management software.
As I was getting ready to leave for COMMON in Nashville last spring, I wondered if I wouldn't need at least a few of the dozen or more passwords I have filed away that provide access to various Web sites, including the back of the MC Press Online news portal where we post articles. No password, no access to the site. No access, no news gets posted. Since passwords are usually filled in automatically by Windows, I don't have to commit them to memory (though I do know one or two).
I realized there might be passwords that I would need while I was out of town, and, since they aren't stored on our network, I likely wouldn't have access to them. I keep them in a note buried deep in my ACT! database. (Yes, I'm one of the few people on Earth who doesn't use Outlook. I actually tried to convert to Outlook a couple years ago but gave up after several hopelessly confusing attempts at mapping and exporting the various nested ACT! databases. I'll just stay with what I have, thanks, until I find a free month or two with absolutely nothing else to do but play with the more than 12,000 records in my contact management software. But I digress.)
So there I am, trying to gather up all my papers before the show and brilliantly decide to put them into a three-ring binder. What's missing? My passwords. So I carefully print out the two pages that have all my passwords on them, punch holes, and carefully place the pages into my binder. Then I think, "Yikes, what if I lose my binder?" So I take a Sharpie permanent marker and carefully start crossing out the passwords that are really sensitive, such as to my online bank account, which I probably won't need at the conference. Now I have my passwords--but do I? I have some of them, but not all of them, though I think I probably have the ones I will need. And while I'm going through this exercise, I'm also thinking, "Man, this is ridiculous. I hope no one ever finds out that I'm handling my passwords this way." Then I ask myself, "Well, maybe other people put their passwords into a binder too because, at least that way, if someone breaks into their computer, they can't steal their passwords!"
I kept this password secret to myself until the other day when a friend of mine said he couldn't read a story published on our Web site since he couldn't log into the site because he couldn't remember his password! I thought, "Good grief. I'm not the only one." He also confided that he usually uses the same password everywhere, which he admitted was probably not a smart idea. Then he asked for my advice on how to store them, and I said, "Man, I don't know; I now keep them in a binder that says 'Nashville'!"
I knew there must be a better way, and fortunately I stumbled upon RoboForm from Siber Systems. The free utility (there is a Pro version for which they charge) has been out for several years and has received rave reviews from just about everyone who has tested it. I downloaded a copy and launched it and immediately was taken by its simple interface and easy quick-start tutorials. There is some complexity there, as its 33-page manual will attest, so learning how to use it effectively will take a bit of time, but it's not so involved as to prevent someone from getting up to speed quickly.
Let me explain first that when you download the application, you actually get two separate programs, RoboForm and RoboForm2Go. RoboForm2Go gives you the ability to carry all your passwords with you on a flash drive wherever you go and still keep them safe (particularly if that flash drive is an IronKey drive, which we discussed last week). The software memorizes your passwords and logs you in automatically. This last feature saves a lot of time. All your passcodes and sensitive data are stored on the USB drive, not on the machine, so once you remove the drive from the computer, the data is gone. This is especially useful if the subprime mortgage meltdown has caused you to lose your home and you are now using a computer at the library to do your online banking.
The software fills in long registration and checkout forms with one click--say, if you're ordering software that you actually have to pay for from a site like newegg.com. It also encrypts your information with AES-level encryption to completely foil anyone who tries to learn your passwords.
Both RoboForm and RoboForm2Go (there is also a U3 version for those drives that support it) have a password generator that allows you to possess passwords that are a little more secure than your child's first name. You can set the strength of the passwords by their length and character type.
The best thing about RoboForm? You have to remember only one password, and RoboForm remembers all the others. If you can't remember one good strong password, then go ahead: tattoo it on your arm. It will make for great conversations about how you escaped from that motorcycle gang in Arizona on your last cross-country trip.
RoboForm is one of the many free or low-cost software products found on the Windows Marketplace site in the Add-ons for Internet Explorer 7 section. We'll be discussing more of them and several of the more numerous Firefox add-ons in coming weeks.