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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I Forgot My Passwords


I've accumulated quite a few logins and password for websites. Given the different restrictions that websites have, these credentials quickly became a jangled mess. I found it increasingly difficult to recall the often peculiar username and password that I had used for any given site. To ease the burden of memorization at one point, I wrote them all down. No matter how safe I could make my these notes, I still felt uncomfortable about security, and was aggravated each time I needed to log in somewhere since I was constantly referring back to that list, sometimes to find that I didn't have a login yet, or simply forgot to record it. I also tried to simplify the passwords I used, employing my "good, strong one" for sensitive stuff, and another one for sites I didn't care so much about. This too seemed like a bad idea, since guessing one of my passwords would let someone access all the sites that used it. There are other tricks for remembering or creating passwords, but I began to feel agitated that I had to create and remember so many passwords at all.

Then I discovered RoboForm.

Combining three important features together, RoboForm is a powerful time-saving tool. First, it will store all your personal information that you might use to "register" for sites, or fill out address information, or, in fact anything else that you might enter often enter into a form. Second, it stores all your logins and passwords for all your websites (it'll even help you generate passwords). Lastly, it can associate specific things to fill (like credentials) with specific URLs. Taken together, I can log into any site by just selecting the appropriate bookmark within RoboForm - it does all the rest automatically. RoboForm secures all this using just one master password.

RoboForm runs as a small program in the tray (down by the clock), and also installs a new toolbar into Internet Explorer and Firefox.

When you visit a new site, one to which you've never registered, RoboForm can fill the fields for you by using an "identity" you've established. Within an identity, you can store as much or as little information as you like. You can go for the simple name and email address, or you can store complete information including addresses, phone numbers and credit cards. When you come upon a web page with a form that requests any of this information, you can have RoboForm fill it in for you intelligently.

Many sites today enable you to select your own password. Since RoboForm will remember these, there's no reason to choose similar passwords for multple sites, or even a password that you'd naturally remember. In fact, RoboForm has a little utility built into it that will generate strong random passwords for you.

When RoboForm sees you enter your site credentials for the first time, it will offer to memorize them.

Each set of site credentials is stored on a "passcard", which you may directly edit if you ever change your password, for example. These passcards are normal files, stored in a normal directory.

All passcards are all encrypted by a master password. This will be the only password you'll ever have to remember, so you can (and should!) make this one very difficult for someone else to guess. This master password must be entered occasionally to enable RoboForm. You can choose how often RoboForm will ask you for the master password.

All of the passcards are arranged in a drop-down menu available from the tray icon, or from menu in the browser. They work just like smart bookmarks: selecting one takes you to the right site and logs you right in.

RoboForm will also suggest an appropriate passcard for a site you may already be visiting.

RoboForm also allows you to store "SafeNotes", which are like secure Post-Its, encrypted using the same master password as your identity and passcards. I find them useful for storing sensitive facts not associated with me in particular or with any one website.

There are many password managers available out there. Many do not have direct browser integration, or require more than one click to select and login to a site, or restrict what you store to username and password (I have some sites that also require a third or differently named item like "account number"). From those that I've tested, RoboForm has the best integration into browsing and most flexible, intelligent support for the types of forms I encounter.

RoboForm can be installed, and/or it can also operate portably from a USB stick. PassToGo (RoboForm portable) is fully compatible with the desktop version or can be used alone. Supposing you stored your passwords on a USB stick with PassToGo, then when you insert the stick, the program will launch and you'll have access to your cards, securely, on any machine until you remove the stick.

As an alternative to storing your RoboForm data on a portable device, you can also use the free companion program GoodSync to synchronize your data (identities, passcards, safenotes) between machines.

For me, RoboForm accomplishes this:
1. Removes the need to remember all but one password.
2. Enables me to choose very secure, different passwords for sites.
3. Replaces bookmarks with much more intelligent auto-login passcards.
4. Makes rotating passwords for security far less inconvenient.
5. Stores other information that I frequently enter into web forms, like my address.


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