EDITORIAL NOTE: Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words.
Every time you buy something, sign up for something, join something or even scratch your nose in front of a computer you need a username and a password. How do you remember all those passwords? All those usernames?
Usernames are easier. These days, your email address can often be your username. Of course, if you have more than one email address, you have to remember which one you used in which place. It's okay to keep the same username for every situation.
Passwords need to vary. It isn't safe to use the same password everywhere you go. For some websites, like your bank or your credit card, you want a very secure password that won't be easy to crack.
A secure password has at least seven characters. It should have at least one letter and at least one digit. You can also include uppercase and lowercase letters in the mix, and punctuation marks or other special characters. Don't base the password on your username or use more than two of the same characters in a row (as in Judy222, for example).
Most modern browsers will ask you if you want them to remember a password. I allow this for a few sites where there is no money involved such as memberships in communities or social groups. For paying my phone bill or sites where ordering something online, however, I don't want that password in the browser's memory in case my laptop gets stolen. I still need a record of the information in case my laptop explodes in a burst of static and dies.
You can write all of your passwords down in a safe place. You then have to protect the piece of paper or book where you store the info. When traveling, don't carry the paper in the same case as the computer.
Relying on the old fashioned piece of paper is low tech and it works if you are consistent about keeping your list organized. But there's the security involved in possibly losing track of the paper. Don't leave it under the keyboard. That's like leaving your key under the welcome mat. Put it somewhere away from the computer that only you know about.
Do you use a password to login to your computer? If it's a secure password and hard to crack, that might give you enough security to store a document with all your passwords listed on your own computer.
Software is available to save your passwords in an encrypted file. Some free software that you can use to store passwords on your computer or on a USB drive that you can carry from computer to computer is mentioned in this article at tucows. When you use encryption software, you must remember the password to get into your password file, but you don't have to remember any other passwords. This is the most technically demanding solution to password management, but also the safest.
My advice is to assess your risk. Are you using online banking and paying bills online? This kind of activity requires some attention to password security and management. Or do you do only less risky chores like checking email or logging to your blog? For that, you can relax and simply write all your passwords down and keep the list in a safe place.
You can email your questions or suggestions here for future Elder Geek columns. Virginia cannot answer individually, but she may use them as topics for future posts.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains how a relative found out This Ain't Mink.]