Way too many passwords to manage?

(Ping! Zine Issue 33) – About a month ago I finally came to the realization that I have way too many passwords to manage. I have passwords for work (control panels, servers, mysql, social sites), passwords for home (web mail, shopping sites), passwords for this and passwords for that. What I didn’t have was a good way to manage all these passwords.

Some sort of password management software seemed to be in order. My requirements were pretty simple:

It had to run on a windows PC (Mac/Linux/PDA would be a bonus).
It had to generate strong passwords.
It had to auto-fill log in forms.
Free is best, but I’d settle for inexpensive.
After a bit of searching I came across KeePass www.keepaeingoldss.info . KeePass is pretty straight forward. It creates an encrypted database with AES and you can access all the id’s/passwords in that database by simply supplying a single (hopefully strong) password. The way that I have things setup KeyPass starts when my machine boots and I enter the password to unlock the KeyPass database. After that, all the magic begins.

Getting things going with KeyPass is pretty straight forward. It uses a basic tree structure of groups and sub-groups. You don’t have to setup any groups (there is a general group by default) but it’s probably a good idea to set some up to help keep things organized.

Organization is nice but I’d really like to use the passwords stored in Keepass. KeePass has a wonderful auto-fill in facility. By default you would use Ctl+Alt+A to Auto-fill. If you don’t like that sequence you can change it by selecting Settings, Advanced tab and then “Auto-type” (it’s near the bottom). You can also customize what KeePass will auto-type. By default it’s “{USERNAME}{TAB}{PASSWORD}{ENTER}” but you can customize that also. A really nice feature is that you can customize the auto-type on a per entry basis. Simply add the appropriate text to any entries “Notes” field and it will use that instead of the default (for example Amazon needs two tabs between the username and password so that ends up being “{USERNAME}{TAB}{TAB}{PASSWORD}{ENTER}“).

KeyPass isn’t perfect at guessing which site your on (and therefore which password to use). There are a couple of ways to fix this. Because I primarily use FireFox, the fix was to install a FireFox plugin (Hostname in title Bar be exact). If your not a FireFox user then check out the KeyPass Plugins page. There are many options there that extend KeyPass past it’s out-of-box setup.

If for some reason you can’t use the auto-type feature your not totally out of luck (it just requires a couple of extra keystrokes). You’ll just have to open the entry you need in KeyPass. By default KeePass masks the passwords with asterisk’s but you can simply click the button to the right of the password (the icon is 3 blue dots) and the password will display in clear text.

KeePass also had a couple of “bonus” feature (at least for me). First, you can run KeePass directly from a USB key. This is a perfect solution for me as I tend to work on several different machines and I don’t want to deal with synchronizing the database. The USB version runs directly from the USB key and leaves no footprint on the PC you were using. Secondly there is a BlackBerry version. I have not had a chance to test the Blackberry version but that’s next on my (very long) to-do list.