The pressure to remember passwords is everywhere, lurking within every website you visit, pestering you with the daunting question: what is your password?
And who can possibly remember all the passwords to all the websites and accounts and clubs and emails and portals and dashboards that have accumulated in your life?
There’s nary a movement you make online that in some way doesn’t rely on or connect to a password: some 10-character combination of letters, numbers and symbols that you probably made up three years ago and wrote on a scrap of paper and put in a drawer somewhere with all the other similarly themed password scraps.
According to security software giant McAfee, which conducted a World Password Survey in 2017, the average consumer had 23 online accounts, a number that has surely grown in ensuing years.
Of course passwords are important and exist for a reason: They are the initial line of defense that protects bad actors from accessing and exploiting user data.
So what are some options for people looking to organize and manage their passwords, in a way that makes sense, isn’t too confusing, and provides some additional security? The options are out there, no matter your lifestyle, technological skill, and aversion to memorization.
Considerable spoke to experts in mobile and online security to see what options exist for folks who feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of passwords in their life.
Option #1: Cast aside modern life, break free from all digital shackles and live password free
This is a dramatic step, and one worthy of great respect, but not what most people have in mind when they are weighing options for how to manage their passwords.
Not having to remember or keep track of any passwords sounds nice, but the tradeoff is that you are probably keeping all your money under your mattress and none of your family or friends knows how to contact you.
Option #2: Become a master of memory, and keep all passwords securely locked in your brain
Amazingly, this is way more common than you might think. A Pew Research Center study from 2017 found that 86% of internet users employed memory to remember online passwords, with 65% responding that memorization was either their only tactic or the one they used most often.
Simply remembering all your passwords is great, if you can do it. But not everyone can keep all those letters, numbers, and symbols organized mentally over time, especially as more and more passwords get added to the mental Rolodex.
A computer user who stores passwords in their head is like a waiter who doesn’t write down the dinner order: If you can remember all the appetizers, sides, drinks and entrees correctly — bravo. But you’re playing with fire, and it’s going to be unfortunate if Aunt Alice gets the wrong flavor Cosmo.
Option #3: Keep your passwords written down in a secure place
A timeless classic that blends a whiff of organization with a dash of informality, maintaining a master list of passwords is a go-to for many folks, either via a paper list (49% according to the Pew research) or on a document saved on a computer (24%, says Pew).
Nathan Buuck, lead security engineer at Fort Wayne, Indiana, software developer Aptera Inc., said keeping a list makes sense for a lot of people.
“It’s certainly still a feasible option,” Buuck said.
“Just like using a mobile note-taking app, it’s a valid decision for those with minimal needs who have consciously considered what their needs and risks are. Such a person needs to consider how private that location is; if it will be resistant to tampering; and if it will always be available (e.g., in the event of a disaster).”
Convenience is a big plus here, but as Buuck mentioned, security can pose a possible risk. Having all your passwords in one physical place, and if that space is say, taped to your desk next to your computer, can backfire if it gets in the wrong hands.
Nobody wants to assume the person washing the window behind your desk would ever do such a thing. But even if your list exists in a document on your computer, it can still become breached.
To be extra secure, try keeping your physical master list in a safe; that way, it’s protected from wandering eyes and you always know where to find it when needed.
Option #4: Use a password manager
Now we’re going to the next level!
Password managers are a type of software that helps store, protect and generate numerous passwords in an encrypted database.
They offer users a centralized storage option that organizes and protects any type of password for any platform or device and are available in free or subscription-based packages.
Jake Cowton, co-founder of Fair Custodian, likes some of the baseline security features attached to a standard password manager.
“At the very least, a password manager should provide auto-filling and strong password generation for each of your accounts and ideally automatically detect when you have updated an existing password.”
What about other common features?
According to Cowton, “Common examples of additional features are password sharing, credit card info storage, duplicate password detection, and exposed password detection.
“The latter of these two features are key to users moving to a password manager for the first time as they it helps them move away from using the same password for multiple accounts, especially if it has been included in a known hack where emails and passwords were leaked.”
There are numerous password manager options out there, here are a few popular ones:
If you’re curious about using a password manager, make sure you have a clear idea of what your needs are, and what you’re looking for.
Nathan Buuck has this advice: “Someone considering a password manager should use a combination of reviews from qualified, trusted, and reputable tech writers and users of the password manager, the feature list of a given password manager, and trial or free use opportunities from the developer to evaluate whether a given app meets their personal security needs.”
When it comes to password managers, remember: You’ll still be relying on a password to get access to your other passwords, so it’s paramount that you make that password strong and keep it safe.
Option #5: Mix and match
There’s no rule saying you have to choose one approach to remembering your passwords.
In fact, most people are already using a combination of the various options listed above: You keep a few passwords in your head, write some down, put a few in a word-processing document, and maybe have a password manager for specific accounts or information.
The point is, find the right match for you. But just know there are alternatives out there, whether you feel swamped with trying to remember your passwords, are anxious about how secure they are, or simply hope to organize them better.