How long does it take for you to find a password for something? Do you have passwords written down on sticky notes or on a random piece of paper in a desk? The problem with this system is that it isn’t very secure, and it probably takes awhile for you to find the password you need. Or, you just get so frustrated with looking for it that you’re constantly requesting new passwords. Either way, you could probably benefit from some password organization. (Also, if you have one password for everything…that’s not a great idea either, for security reasons).
Here are 4 steps for getting your passwords organized:
Step 1: How are you organizing?
The first step with organizing is figuring out how you’re going to organize things. Are you a more of a digital person or do you want to keep things on paper? The number of passwords you manage (i.e. just your own personal passwords or, like us, hundreds and hundreds) may also be a deciding factor. It doesn’t make sense for us to write down all the passwords we manage on index cards when you consider the time it takes to 1) haul out the index cards, 2) find the client password for the thing we’re getting into (website, Twitter, etc), and 3) enter in the password- add that time up even just over the period of a single day, and that’s a lot of inefficiently used time. Not to mention if you lose the stack and have no copies of it, you are totally up the creek.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that any new system takes a little practice getting used to. Choose either digital or written as your general method and move onto step 2.
Step 2: Choose a Secure System
Choose a secure system. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Google Docs and spreadsheets are not a secure password management system. Neither are sticky notes stuck to your computer screen. Sure, these things are probably easier than typing in a master password to something like KeePass or Lastpass, but setting up something that is more secure is more
Paper system: If you don’t trust your passwords in an electronic system, you can always use a paper system (sorry, but still no sticky notes). Lifehack recommends using index cards in a small box, or something like an address book to keep your passwords organized (ex: A is for Amazon). Unfortunately, unless you have this paper system locked away somewhere, it is still vulnerable to anyone who might stumble upon it. Consider how it will be stored when you aren’t using it.
Electronic Systems: Many of these systems offer a free option (great for personal password organization) and paid versions (if you manage a lot of passwords). A few things that these programs have in common: a master password for accessing your collection of passwords, browser extensions, extra security in the form of two-factor authentication, and accessibility across devices (most will not automatically sync for security reasons).
A few popular options for electronic systems include: LastPass, KeePass, 1Password (offers a 30 day trial period but costs money for individuals, families, and teams), and Sticky Password (which also has biometrics so you can login using a fingerprint). My advice is to figure out what things are important to you (cloud backup? accessibility on all devices?) and do a little research for the best possible match. Note: nothing will be perfect unless you build it yourself so just pick something and learn what you can about it.
Step 3: Data Entry
For us, entering client passwords into KeePass initially took awhile. As with any new system, setup tends to be the most tedious/boring part, but it’s an important part of the process that you will thank yourself for later. Whether you’re entering 5 passwords or 500, this is one of those tasks that you can set yourself up watching a favorite t.v. show or movie and crank out some work. In other words, find your own way to embrace the initial data entry involved. It can be fun if you let it.
Step 4: Save/Back Up
If you use an electronic system like one mentioned above, make sure you are saving and backing up databases as you go if you’re entering new passwords on a regular basis. Having a password protected backup file of the database somewhere is also a good idea in case you accidentally delete something you actually need.
If you are using paper, you’ll want/need some way to duplicate your file on occasion. Paper backups are needed just like digital ones so a photocopier or a scanning app on your phone could be your best friend for this task.
Keeping your passwords organized is important- even Martha Stewart has written about the matter. It will save you so much time to have it all in one place, plus you can use the data entry time to get caught up on your favorite television shows.
You can also read more about our journey in getting our passwords organized in a secure fashion using KeePass here: BEC Story #2: The Password Problem