Google recently announced it’s rolling out a two-step verification process for accessing your Google accounts — Gmail, Google Apps, Google Docs, among others. So, for example, not only would someone need to know your password, they’d need to also have to have your mobile phone to receive the randomly generated PIN code Google sends when you try to log into your account from a new Web browser.
I’ll definitely be turning on two-step verification when it becomes available for my account. I’m reminded, though, that I used to reuse the same set of passwords for multiple sites and services online. I knew better, but it was impossible to keep track of the dozens that would be required if I had a different one for every site and service.
I had a system, with different levels of passwords for different types of sites. I never reused my bank password, I used highly secure passwords for sites with private data and I used lower-security passwords for general sites that don’t store private data. It wasn’t a bad system, but if one site was compromised and my ID and password were stolen, the hacker could gain access to other sites.
Now I use a password management program, which stores all of my passwords safely under one master password.
The key is to make sure you have a strong master password for your password management program to protect your list of passwords. You’ll want to create strong passwords for each site that you log into as well.
A strong password must have at least 8 characters (the longer the better), with a mixture of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and, if the site or service allows, special characters, such as “!,” “#” and “?.” It should be something you can remember easily. A long sentence works well when you take the first letter of each word and then substitute the vowels for numbers or symbols.
For example: The quick brown fox jumped inside the orange box and slept = Tqbfj1t0b&s
Once you’ve created your master password, you can set up your password manager. It stores your passwords and user names in an encrypted database, enabling you to quickly access them. Once you have your password manager running, it fills in your user ID and password for you.
The free Mozilla Firefox Web browser for PCs and Macs has a built-in password manager, but you need to make sure you create a master password to protect your list. Other browsers — Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome — can remember passwords for you, but they do not have a manager or master password to protect your passwords, so it’s best to use a dedicated program.
Another great option is to use the password manager that comes with your Internet security software. Our top picks, Symantec’s Norton Internet Security ($39.99 at Norton.com) and Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 ($79.95 at Kaspersky.com) both have password managers.
For stand-alone password managers, one of the best is RoboForm Pro ($9.95 per year at RoboForm.com), which works with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. The program can auto-fill just about any online form, including e-mail, name, phone number and credit card information. There’s also RoboForm2Go for smart phones (free at roboform.com) that can access your database of passwords created with RoboForm Pro.
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I also like Kaspersky Password Manager ($24.95 at usa.kaspersky.com) for PCs. It saves passwords and personal data on your computer or to a USB key that you can then use securely on any computer. It also auto-fills forms and auto-generates strong passwords for you. It even provides an onscreen keyboard to foil keyloggers, for those times when you need to manually input sensitive information.
And for Macs, check out 1Password ($39.95 at agilewebsolutions.com). The software saves passwords, credit card numbers, account registration information, just about anything you can think of, and auto-fills it all across most browsers on a Mac, including Safari, Firefox and Camino. It even has a free companion application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that will sync with your desktop and stop you from having to peck out your passwords on that tiny touchscreen keyboard.
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