The Best of the Tech Helpline: What's the Safest Way to Manage Your Passwords?

Password security


 September 09, 2019
Tech Helpline

It may be the biggest Catch-22 of technology: password protection keeps your data safe. After all, one in five Americans say they have experienced a compromise of an online account. But to be genuinely safe, experts recommended using different, highly complex passwords: a mix of random letters, numbers and characters. However, that approach makes these passwords nearly impossible for most people to remember!

To solve this challenge, research by Digital Guardian found that nearly 40 percent of people use the same password to access multiple sites and accounts. Others use a core password and then add a slight variation. That can increase your risk, security experts warn, because if a hacker figures out your password for one site, it would be easier to access your other sites and accounts.

Plus, many firms require you to change your password frequently and often prevent you from reusing a recent password. That compounds the password user’s password quandary.

The Digital Guardian research also found that 39 percent of people solve their password dilemma by writing down passwords on paper or storing them in their computer. The problem with these approaches is that many people keep their handwritten passwords near their computers, or, ironically do not password-protect the document that contains all the passwords.

Bad password habits are not limited by age group. Researchers found that the age group most likely to reuse passwords ‚Äď 76 percent in fact ‚Äď were those ages 18 to 24. That‚Äôs 15 percent higher than the next age group most likely to use passwords, those 65 years and older at 61 percent.

What is the safest way to manage your passwords?

Experts recommend using a password manager. Password managers keep your passwords together in one place. They automatically create strong passwords for you, inserting them as you log into your different accounts.

CNET, a leading computer and software review magazine, recently provided a list of its top-ranked password manager programs. See the full list at www.cnet.com/news/the-best-password-managers-of-2019. CNET profiled many of the popular password manager options, including 1Password, Blur, Sticky Password, Password Boss, Last Pass and more.

CNET ranked Keeper as the top choice, which offers a free version that includes all the features most people need: unlimited password storage, autofill passwords, unlimited payment and identity info, fingerprint and face ID login, and all accessible on a single device. The Keeper paid version is $2.50 a month, which includes giving you access to your passwords on all of your devices.

How safe are password managers

The typical password manager uses multifactor authentication. This is a two-step process that makes your passwords safe. Your passwords are stored in what is essentially a ‚Äúdigital vault,‚ÄĚ and access to your vault is only possible when you enter both a correct password and an authentication code. Your authentication code is on the device you own, keeping online hackers away from your information

A password manager ensures your vault is protected by encrypting your password information locally before it ever leaves your device. Finally, your passwords are stored, in an encrypted form, on the program manager’s servers.

What else can you do to keep your information safe?

Once you have a password manager, you can keep your passwords more secure by following a few password best practices. Security experts recommend that you should change your passwords regularly. Unfortunately, 56 percent of people say they keep their same passwords for a year or more. It’s safer to be among the 44 percent who change their passwords at least once a year or less.

Never reuse the same password. That may be the biggest benefit that a password manager can provide. Because a password program manager can generate complex passwords and remember them for you, the idea of creating different complex passwords for every account and site you own ‚ÄĒ and changing them often ‚ÄĒ is not as ominous.

Updating your technology also helps make you more secure. Most newer smartphones and laptops provide an extra layer of security protection by locking your device until you provide your fingerprint. Face recognition is also being used regularly now with smartphones, reducing the need for you to type in a password.

Some sites offer a newer password option: a passphrase. A passphrase allows you to use a common language phrase instead of random letters, numbers and characters. For example, a passphrase could be ‚Äústop beating around the bush.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs much easier to remember than a highly sophisticated password, and passphrases can be just as safe or safer, security experts argue.

Finally, experts recommend you always select two-factor or multifactor authentication. You probably recognize this when you are using a public computer, and when you enter the correct password and username, you are taken to a page that will provide you with a one-time code to enter, typically via email, a phone call or text to your phone. You won’t be granted access until you provide the correct code you are sent

All of these practices together provide you extra layers of security. And when you combine these safety procedures together, you massively reduce the chances of your passwords being hacked

Learn more about password management, specifically with the Stashword program, in the WRA’s TechHottips video at www.wra.org/Stashword.

Password safety tips

  1. Never reuse the same password.
  2. Use a password management program.
  3. Use two-factor authentication at login.
  4. Change your passwords often. 
  5. Use a combination of letters, numbers and characters.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA.

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