Let’s be real, I have a problem – I lose my keys so often it’s pathological. It’s a product of bad key keeping habits, really – I’m not consistent and often “hide” my keys in a dazzling variety of places. When I’m carrying keys on me, I mindlessly switch the pocket they’re in so I have to do the pocket pat down every time I need to unlock something. God help me when I wear cargo pants… In this way, I’m part of an inauspicious group of people who spend a lot of time looking under their couch cushions or trying to break into their own houses.
When it comes down to managing my digital “keys” though, I’ve got the process down. Passwords are like your house and car keys, except that passwords and online accounts seem to be like the universe: infinitely expanding. There’s no end to the services we must remember a password for - Netflix, Facebook, banking websites, forums, PC, Email, iCloud, etc. ad nausea. Everywhere I go and do IT work, my clients struggle to stay above the sea of passwords they find themselves drowning in. Indeed, they have been banished to password purgatory.
Since my job so often consists of helping people recover their passwords, I’ve developed some useful tricks for keeping them all straight. Here are 5 that will get you started:
KISS – which obviously stands for “Keep It Short with Syntax.” Right?
At this point, everyone probably knows that you shouldn’t set your password to “password” or “12345” and that some level of complexity is needed to prevent your account being hacked. Most places enforce a baseline standard which is
- 8 characters
- Upper and Lower case
- Have a number or special character
This does not mean you should make your password something akin to »Ø©ćßÝ¼¿Î«. Yet I continually come across tinfoil hat wearing, cybersecurity stalwarts who think the only way to secure your password is to play digital twister on your keyboard. The fact is, unless you’re securing the nuclear launch codes, a highly secure password can be created that’s short and memorable yet complex. The human brain has a much easier time remembering character strings that follow a basic syntax. I’m a fan of the short yet strong passwords that office 365 generates. They typically read something like this “Yolo9842” or “Mumu3214”. It’s short, really easy to remember, and yet nearly impossible to break using brute force methodology.
Do you want to save this password?
Opinions may differ, but on a private PC, storing your passwords in a browser like Chrome is both secure and convenient. The best part about it, is if you need to remember your password – you can look it up. Since you can login to Chrome with your Google account, any device you use Chrome on has access to the same list of passwords. Try it out, if you’re an enlightened user who prefers the Chrome browser go to Settings >> Show Advanced Settings >> and under Password and Forms select “manage passwords”. I use this feature all the time.
In a similar vein, LastPass is a great, freemium product that makes keeping track of your password horde pretty simple. One password will grant you access to all of your passwords in a digital archive.
For Apple fans, the IOS “Keychain” is a similar service. It will sync across all your Apple devices or if you login to your iCloud account.
Biometrics – aka “how to manage your passwords and look cool doing it”
Many laptops come with fingerprint readers or facial recognition software. Windows Hello is one such software that is uncannily good at recognizing your face to unlock your PC. No, someone can’t hold up a picture of your face to fool it – it uses infrared camera tech to map the contours of your face. Yes, it can recognize you even if you’re wearing aviators, sporting a beard, and an ironic statement hat – very useful tech in my case.
One thing is certain, the number of accounts and passwords we’re responsible for is only going to increase for the foreseeable future. More and more of our personal data finds itself hiding behind these digital gatekeepers and protecting it from hacking and theft is more important now than ever. We can’t take our security and privacy for granted online as digital break-ins often have real-life, analog consequences. Good security starts with a good password. Just make sure you remember it.