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Guide: Things You Must Know About Password Managers
Recently, Lastpass has made more of its service free by making multi-device syncing non-premium. We’ve discussed that in detail here. Now seems like a ripe time to try LastPass, as I’ve been a long-time advocate of anti-password manager.
Real Geeks do not use Managers | Shutterstock
There is no personal enmity I have against any of the password managers, but the concept of a separate app to only manage your passwords seemed out of place. I know it may not make much sense, but I have my different reasons.
But I have tried LastPass. I’ve been using it on my smartphone for two weeks, laptop, iPad and desktop PC, I’ve had a mixed experience. So let’s see what are the reasons and my do-it-yourself for managing passwords.
Why I don’t like password managers
Passwords must be personal and confidential and must not be disclosed to anyone. So from the start I felt a bit unsure about handing over all my passwords to a third party.
I know the passwords are safe with them (you never know) and such services don’t sniff the user data, but still there was a hint of unease for me.
Plus, a few years ago, not every damn website and service required you to sign up upToday, powerful signups have increased and so has our digital presence.
It’s over if the master password is compromised
Finally, there was one last drop of weakness, the master password you enter every time you need to automatically fill in the login credentials for a site using the manager.
You are done for good if the master password is compromised. Also, many of the password managers even do the job of generating a secure and unique password for different logins. So, in the event that the service’s database gets compromised or you can’t access the service for whatever reason, you’re pretty much out of luck.
My method: convenience over security, somewhat
So to get the rant out of the way, I personally use a method of keeping the passwords that makes it easy for me to remember them for different sites.
But before I go into further explaining what it is, I would like to make it very clear that this method is flawed. From the point of view of strict conventions that one must follow for an unbreakable password, my method requires a lot of freedom.
So you should only use it if you are willing to take the risk and know your way around the internet to tell the good from the bad.
We all know the golden rule: you must use a unique password for different accounts. So, in case one of the accounts is compromised, the others will remain safe. But it’s easier said than done and I’m not following it.
According to human tendency, we choose the simpler ways and a memorable password, although insecure, is preferred by many. My method also uses the same password on different sites, but with a twist, as shown above.
The basic password: how long should it be?
Starting with the basic password, it pretty much stays the same on all sites. Now that we’re already ignoring the golden rule, this base password should be a strong password.
Password length is one of the things that dictate the strength of the password, the other is the content, but more on that later. Researchers say long passwords with a minimum length of 12 are safe.
Simply increasing the length from 11 to 12 increases the brute force time from minutes to years! Haystack Calculator
And one with a minimum of 16 characters is recommended. Taking this into account, it makes sense to set the base password over 16, right?
No, because many websites have limits on how long the password can be, so a very long base password will cause problems in accommodating the unique extras we’ll be adding to it.
But your basic password must be at least 12 characters long. If 12 is not possible, try to include as many different characters as possible, as this will increase entropy.
The strength of the password depends on the content. In scientific terms, Entropy, which means randomness, defines the strength of the password. The more random the password has, the harder it is to crack.
For example, a dictionary word like garden123 is like a walk in the park to crack with brute force instead of 1 & 2 @ 3a4 &. As a rule of thumb, your password should include the following:
Now that we know what makes a password strong, let’s move on to creating secure yet memorable passwords. Your imagination plays a big role here.
For the explanation, let’s take ajinkya799 as a basic password. Hitting this in Dashlane’s password strength tool will give you a brute force time of 1 day.
As I explained earlier, the base password must be at least 12 characters long. And this is done by padding, which means adding alphabets, numbers or symbols to it. The optimal way of filling is to use all things as shown in the image below.
I capitalized the first letter and added an @ symbol and dots at the end for padding
Likewise, you can add symbols, numbers and letters to your simple easy-to-remember password to make it stronger.
The unique salts
We have made the base password stronger, but as we know it is unsafe to use on all sites. So we add extras to it, so it differs from site to site.
One way is to use two capital letters from the respective site. Again with Ajinkya @ 799 .. as the base password, for Amazon it will be Ajinkya @ 799..AZ, for Facebook Ajinkya @ 799..FB and so on.
In the same way, you can design your own system for different websites. Finally, you can also add a not so random salt to the password. For example, you can add a number that matches the letters on the website as shown below.
Or number the websites and increase the number if and when you use the password for a new site. Of course, that requires you to keep a numbered list, which brings us to how to maintain the list if your memory is the same as mine.
I use an excel sheet to maintain the passwords; another rejected method. A column for the base password, one for the website-related salts, and one for the random salts. And in order not to be nominated for the Trump of the Year award, I secure and encrypt it with a password.
The base password is written for display only
To improve security, I don’t even write the base password, except where it has been changed to meet the length restrictions.
In addition, I also switch the order of columns to further confuse if someone breaks open the file. You can also imagine other ways and please don’t name that excel file as Password Master List or anything like that.
My method obviously overlooks some basic rules for digital security, but it doesn’t ignore them completely. And it takes some creativity on your end too.
From filling in the basic password to setting the IDs for different websites, you can customize it as you wish.
What you need to be careful about is handling that Excel list. And again, follow this method as you see fit. If you have any doubts or suggestions, please share them with us via comments.
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