How to Keep Your Passwords Safe

Written by:  • Edited by: Tricia Goss
Updated Dec 1, 2016
• Related Guides: Sticky Notes | New York Times

Still writing your password on sticky notes? Do you use the same password for multiple sites? Why not use a password manager to help you create and store more secure passwords? After all, identify theft can be as easy as your weakest password.

Pa$$w0rDs!

Passwords are no fun. If you follow the “rules" and make a lengthy password with letters, numbers and symbols AND you use unique passwords for every site, you will never be able to remember the passwords. You probably write passwords on a sticky note or maybe in an excel document. On the other hand, if you make your passwords easy to remember and can avoid writing them down, they can be cracked in seconds. Neither solution is very good and with nearly every site offering (or requiring) some kind of sign up or registration process, the password problem has only gotten worse.

Enter the rise of the password manager. Although there are numerous password managers out there, I have two favorites – KeePass and LastPass. KeePass is used on a local system and is going to be slightly more secure than a cloud based provider, but it’s not as convenient. LastPass is a cloud-based provider and is my pick for my day-to-day password manager.

Let’s dig in to how to use it!

LastPass

The thing I like most about LastPass and other cloud based password managers is that it gives you access to your passwords anywhere you have internet connectivity. Swing by your parent’s house and need to look up your email password? Simple – just sign into LastPass and look it up. No client needed.

LastPass offers two plans for individuals – a free edition and the Premium edition (about $12/year). If you need basic access on your computer and to the web-based interface, the free edition should work for you. If you want to sync across mobile devices and allow for advanced multi-factor authentication, go for the Premium edition.

We’ll cover setting up a free account in this guide.

Navigate to https://lastpass.com

Click the “Get Lastpass Free" button.

If using Chrome, you will be requested to get the LastPass extension. Go ahead and accept. Other browsers will start a download, which you can manually run afterwards.

Once the extension is installed, it will ask you to create an account.

Start by entering your email address.

Next, you will need to come up with a master password. This is the one password you will need to make complex and remember. Instead of coming up with a random set of characters, use a passphrase. This will help make it personal to you and easier to remember. For example “I was aSP@ce janit0R 0nc3" will be more meaningful than a mix of mumbo-jumbo.

Next, I would recommend taking the tour. This will give you a brief overview of the Password vault and LastPass extension.

Using the Password Vault

Once you have an account and log into your vault, you will notice several tabs along the left side (Figure 1).

 

To add a new site, click the “Add Site” button in the bottom right. Enter the URL for the site, name, along with pertinent info such as username and password. You can also type notes, which can come in handy storing security questions or other information (Figure 2).

 

Once done, click Save.

You will now see any sites saved in your password vault.

You can also save secure notes. For example, you can save account information or social security numbers in a secure note. To retrieve these, you can do a search along the top of the Password Vault page.

The Form Fills tab lets you enter information that can be quickly filled into standard web forms. Tired of filling out your name, address and contact information? Set it up once and forget about having to type it all out again (Figure 3).

 

You may also want to check out multi-factor authenticators to further secure your account. These can be found under the Account Settings tab. Several authenticators are supported in the free edition of LastPass including LastPass Authenticator and Google Authenticator.

Using the Extension

The other half of LastPass is the browser extension. The extension helps automate credential entry and creation. For example, as I’m going about my day, I want to create a new credential for the New York Times website. I visit their site and start entering my email and password I want to use. After creating my account, LastPass will recognize you just created credentials and will ask you if you want to save them (Figure 4).

 

Go ahead and click Save Site and enter in any other details you wish to keep.

Now, the next time you visit this site you should see a LastPass icon in the username and password fields. Click the icon and select the set of credentials to use (Figure 5).

 

If you click the LastPass icon in your browser toolbar, you will see several options that mirror the PasswordVault (Figure 6).

 

Password managers are lifesavers when it comes to protecting your information and until biometrics become a bit more practical, passwords will continue to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future.

 
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