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Remembering your passwords

Who doesn’t find it frustrating trying to remember all those different passwords for web sites, computers, and apps on your smartphone? Let’s take a look at some of the options out there to try help.

Growing threat

Maintaining personal security whilst using numerous devices and software connected to the Internet is a constantly evolving conundrum. With identity theft and fraud becoming a more major problem by the day and a growing number and variety of scams and online thefts becoming more and more prolific so then security becomes stricter. This increase in security is not only to keep us safe but also companies have to protect customer data and avoid costly security breaches.

In the early days of Internet usage it used to be the case that you could have a single password, or perhaps 2 or 3, that were memorable and could be used across the few web sites you needed to login to and in order to access your home computer plus the one at work. You probably also had a cell phone that required a 4-digit PIN if lock screen and that was about it.

Current dilemma

Now the chances are that you have a smartphone, a tablet, a home desktop computer and/or laptop, plus at work you have a computer and possibly remote access via VPN for when you are on the road or working from home. Then there are a multitude of web sites and apps including social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram plus shopping sites such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Etsy etc. The chances are that you also have mobile banking, email, streaming services such as NetFlix, Xfinity, HBO, Sling TV … the list goes on.

The issue is that each of these devices, web sites, and apps, have a variety of logins and access control mechanisms such as:

  • Username / Password
  • Email / Password
  • Finger print recognition
  • Facial recognition

Then there are further prompts when you login to a different device, forget your password, or try to access them from a different country:

  • Two-factor authentication (giving permission from another device via a SMS PIN code, email code, phone call, pop-up approval, or authentication app)
  • Questions when resetting passwords (e.g. city where you were born, model of first car you owned, eldest sibling’s name)
  • Anti-robot verification (e.g. tick the check box, click all images containing a bridge, enter the squiggly number)

Passwords have become more complex too with:

  • Increasing minimum lengths which used to be 6 characters but now are often 8+
  • Must contain a capital letter, digit and special character
  • If the password is changed then it frequently cannot reuse a previous one
  • Generated passwords that can only realistically be memorized by the device due to their length

Solutions

Of course we have all been told not to write passwords down and especially not on a Post-it note attached to your monitor – yes this still happens! So what are the options to try make remembering passwords somewhat easier and less frustrating?

Computers & Devices

Here we are considering easier ways to login to our desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones:

  • No login – whilst this used to be the default many years ago, nowadays Login is a feature that can be disabled on some devices. The only realistic scenario is on a home computer but even then what happens if it is stolen and what about different people sharing it? In reality whilst this option avoids remembering a password it is not very viable and certainly not secure.
  • PIN code – this tends to be limited to smartphones and tablets though most people can remember a 4 or 6 digit PIN with the latter being more common.
  • Username / Password – this is still a very common method for accessing computers though the Username is tending to be an online Email login e.g. MS Windows using a Microsoft Account that can be also used for MS Office, Xbox, Skype etc.
  • Finger print recognition – this tends to be limited to smartphones and tablets. iPhones and iPads had this for a short period but after a few models it has quickly been replaced by facial recognition. Android phones and tablets seem to be moving the same way. Some laptops also adopted this technology which is very secure.
  • Facial recognition – this technology is superseding all of the above, is extremely secure and definitely hassle free. It is supported by the major smartphone and tablet operating systems plus even become available on laptops such as the Microsoft Surface. Right now it this is arguably ‘the’ solution for logging into computers and devices.

Web sites & Applications

Here we are considering easier ways to login to web sites:

  • Browser password management – this is where web browsers prompt you to save a username & password combination when you log into a new web site and when you visit them in the future the fields are pre-populated. The main web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and others have had this feature built-in and available for free for a number of years now. The challenge is when you use a different computer or device. Whilst some browsers now have a login and synchronize between your devices, what happens when your browser of choice is not available e.g. moving from MS Windows on your laptop to an iPad?
  • Device password management – rather than a web browser managing access to web sites, the likes of Apple products have a built-in Keychain feature which does this and also synchronizes between iCloud enabled devices. This means it is possible to use a username / password combination to access a web site on your MacBook laptop then ‘seamlessly’ access that site on your iPhone or iPad. This facility also extends to apps making it arguably more useful than Browser password managers but can be restrictive to a particular manufacturer’s operating system e.g. MacOS / iOS by Apple.
  • Password app – instead of using a Browser-based or Device-based password manager there is the option of using a third-party app which has either or both of the advantages i.e. is platform independent and covers more than one web browser. The trade-off if how effectively does it work and that they are usually, but not always, paid for applications.

Note: In the above only the last two cover both web sites and apps.

Best solution

As you might expect there is no one solution that fits all. It is heavily dependent on you individual situation such as:

  • How up-to-date are your devices?
    This determines the options that are available such as Fingerprint or Facial Recognition.
  • What devices do you use?
    If you use nothing but Apple then iCloud is an obvious consideration as it seamlessly works across MacBooks, iPads and iPhones plus handles login for your devices, apps and web sites.
    If you have Android devices such as a Chromebook, browse with Chrome and have an Android-based tablet and smartphone then Google Smart Lock might be a good choice.
    If you have a mix of operating systems such as Windows PC, Android tablet and an iPhone plus use a variety of web browsers then the chances are you will need to look at a more comprehensive paid-for solution of a combination of solutions.
  • What are your personal preferences?
    This has probably heavily influenced your decisions to the previous question so has similar answers.

Below is a table of some of the offerings and features to give an idea on the options available:

Package (Cost)Web BrowsersApps / Platforms
1Password
(paid)
Any browserAndroid, Chrome OS, iOS,
Linux, MacOS, Windows
Dashlane
(free / paid)
Any browserAndroid, iOS, Mac, Windows
Google Smart Lock
(free)
ChromeAndroid, Chrome OS
Keychain
(free)
Any browseriOS, MacOS
LastPass
(free / paid)
Any browser
(free)
Android, iOS, Windows (paid)
PadLoc
(free / paid)
Any browserAndroid, Chrome OS, iOS,
Linux, MacOS, Windows
Roboform
(free / paid)
Any browserAndroid, iOS, Mac, Windows
StickyPassword
(free / paid)
Any browserAndroid, iOS, Mac, Windows

What solution(s) to remembering passwords do you use? Please share your preferences below and let us know what you like/dislike.

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