Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Today - with the need to register online for everything, the personal overhead in creating and managing user-id's, account names, and passwords is getting out of control. I use a separate MS-Word document to track all this stuff. I use different level passwords (level 1-3) where Level 1 is for stuff I do not care about and is open through Level 3 which I rarely use on things like online-banking, etc. In the MS-Word document I do not actually record the password - I trust myself to remember this, but I do annotate the account with the specific level password I use (level 1, level 2a, etc)
This actually works OK for me, but still - I need this MS-Word document to remember all my references and if I am not on my own computer, I am a bit lost... I was a thinking of maybe putting this on an FTP site, but I am concerned for the obvious security issues.
I cannot be alone with this problem. Is there a better system out there? A personal password management system that enables me to access all my accounts and level passwords in a secure manner? I see there are things like PasswordLocker, but I am not sure I trust the security piece.
Do you have any suggestions?
|My approach has changed since this article was written. I now recommend and use Lastpass. See Managing Lots of Passwords for a video demonstration (with transcript).|
First off, I have to say that your approach is already pretty good. The fact that you're not actually storing the passwords themselves, but just a mnemonic device for yourself, is an excellent technique that most people don't think of.
My approach is similar, I use different "levels" of passwords, for example, but I use Excel instead of Word.
I have a spreadsheet in which I keep all the sensitive information, and that, then, is kept in an encrypted virtual drive using free open source software called TrueCrypt. I've written about it before, discussing how to keep the data on my laptop secure.
Unfortunately I don't really have a good solution for access anywhere without having your own computer in front of you. Your approach using numbers to represent passwords seems reasonably secure, and I'd probably be ok with putting that on a password-protected website or ftp site. Even if someone did get that list, they would only get your mnemonics, and not your actual passwords. It would take a little work, but depending on how server-savvy you are, you could encrypt that on the server and only decrypt on demand when the correct passphrase is supplied. You could further put it on a secure (https) page so as to prevent network sniffing.
The more common approach is to use a USB thumb drive with the data thereon encrypted. Even a small inexpensive one is large enough to carry both the data you care about, and the decryption software needed. The downside, of course, is that to access the information you'll need access to a computer with a USB port, and an operating system compatible with the decryption software. TrueCrypt, for example, is Windows only. In a case like this, I would keep the data in a plain text file, so as not to require an additional program, like Word or Excel, to view the data once it's decrypted. And I'd certainly keep an UNencrypted version in a secure location as backup.
Most password management programs that I've seen all boil down to something very similar: an encrypted database with a secure UI to view and alter the contents. I've come to avoid those programs simply because their encryption is often unproven, the database formats non-standard, and like you, I'm just not sure I always trust them.
And they don't solve the access-anywhere problem that you're asking about.
So I know that didn't answer your question about alternatives, but given your approach, I'd be ok with the information on a password protected ftp site. Hopefully I've given you some additional approaches to think about as well.