Freedom, Community & Sustainability

How to manage secure and unforgettable passwords

May 28, 2012 -- William
Last modified on November 2016
Duration: +- 15 minutes

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Not so long ago I had several problems with my passwords at almost the same time. The worse problems were with the passwords I had forgotten and couldn't recover quickly. This awful episode in password management made me realize that I had to take the matter seriously and couldn't count only on my memory to remember the dozens of passwords I need to type everyday. I also realised that my e-mail password was not so secure. If someone obtained access to my e-mail it would be easy to change the password of several other accounts that I have. Remember that when you ask for a new password, many sites will sent it to your e-mail. So I decided to investigate the best way to make a secure and unforgettable password.

Usually there is a correlation between passwords that are easy to remember and easy to be guessed. Avoid passwords like 123456, abc123, qwerty, birthdays, dog names or any other information that can be guessed by someone who knows just a little bit about you. These are probably the first passwords that an intruder will try. To enhance security, it is also recommended to change your password every once in a while. If your passwords follow a pattern, even if you change your passwords, it's easy to guess what the next will be. So what's the best solution?

The first tip to have a perfect password came from this xkcd cartoon that explains how to create passwords that are easy to remember but hard to guess.


xkcd secure passwords

The idea is to create sentences instead of creating meta-words. Nevertheless, caps, numbers and special characters do increase the security of a password!

It's also not a good idea to use the same password on every account you have. Remember that each site has its own security system, some sites are more secure than others. If your password is the same for all of them, one insecure site can make all your accounts vulnerable.

The second step is to use a password manager to keep all your passwords in an encrypted database. To do this I use KeePassX. It's a Free Software able to generate and store passwords safely. Basically, KeePassX will ask for a master password which will be used to encrypt your data. Once you have a master password, you can generate and store secure passwords in your database. These generated passwords can then be safely used on websites.

Notice on the image below that (if you wish) you can also create a file to encrypt your database. In other words, if you prefer to keep a key rather than memorising a password, put this file in a pen drive and keep it in a safe place. Your pen drive will become a digital key.


KeePall login


Once you connect to your database you can put in all your passwords. KeePassX not only stores passwords safely but it can also generate random passwords with a configurable security level. This way you won't need to scratch your head to create a good password. At the beginning I thought I'd never use random passwords but I realised with KeePassX that it's a really good idea. Today I only use passwords generated by KeePassX and I can be sure they have a fair security level. Notice that even when you log into your database, your passwords are not displayed on screen. The passwords appear as a sequence of asterisks. You can view one by one according to your needs or use the buttons on top to copy usernames and passwords without ever displaying them on screen.


KeePass Main


If you forget to close the program, it will lock itself automatically after a given period of time. To unlock you need to type the master password once again.


KeePass Lock


Then you can create categories to separate, let's say, your credit card password from a door lock. If you don't want to create categories you can use the search function to search for account passwords.


KeePass Categories


Finally, KeePassX is cross-platform and runs on GNU/Linux, Windows and MacOS, this way you will always be able to access your passwords no matter what computer you have available. You only have to take with you the encrypted database and open it on a computer that has KeePassX installed (or have KeePassX on your pen-drive as well). Be careful not to put the file that unlocks the database together with the database itself! That would be a big security fail!

Needless to say that the best of all is that you don't need to memorise all your passwords anymore!


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