The Explorer: Readers' Choice: Password Tools - InformationWeek

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Commentary
7/23/2003
03:45 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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The Explorer: Readers' Choice: Password Tools

Hundreds of tips and tools for managing passwords!

Winmag.com readers -- like you! -- are a great source of answers, as indicated by all the user-to-user help that happens in the various BBS areas here, including the one associated with this column. But Winmag.com readers are also a great source of very interesting questions, like this:

Fred: Do you have any software suggestions for a PASSWORD GENERATOR or PASSWORD STORAGE & RETRIEVAL? With so many Web sites using ID's and PW's it is hard to keep up with them and to recall them. Thanks in advance! -- Frank Barbarino
Of course, Internet Explorer can remember many site passwords for you, but it always supplies cached passwords in masked form (such as "******"); if something happens to the cache, you may have long forgotten what the password really is.

Netscape's just-released browser, Netscape 6, has adopted IE's password saving feature but it also lets you manage the passwords from an integrated password manager found in Tasks>Privacy and Security>Password Manager. (Thanks to reader Alek Andreev for pointing this out.)

Then there are tools such as Gator, which remember passwords for you. But these ad-supported apps worry me because they "phone home," ostensibly to refresh their ad cache. The same "phone home" behavior could theoretically be exploited to send back your passwords.

At one point, I created a simple text file with all my logons and passwords, and then stored that inside a password-protected ZIP file created with WinZip. I only had to remember the Zip file's password, and then would have access to all the rest. You can do something similar with password-protected word processing documents and spreadsheets, too. While this isn't "robust" security by any means, it certainly will defeat casual snoops.

But none of those answers fully addresses Frank's question, so I posted his question in my newsletter -- and got almost 500 responses!

Three password-manager programs were mentioned more than any other. Here they are, in the words of the first reader to mention each one:

Yo Fred, here is a link to an excellent password safe. In fact it is called "Password Safe." I've been using it for about a year with no problems. The counterpane site is full of solid security info. -- Ed Gilbert

As a fan of your newsletter, here's a password keeper (Whisper32) for you to check out. I think it's very useful and easy to use, best of all, it's small (422KB). -- Tom McCubbin

I thought it was about time I made a contribution since I have been avidly gleaning tips from your newsletter for months now. I use "Password Keeper" for all my logins. -- Phil Short

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