Richard Leach-Steffens

Richard Leach-Steffens

Maryville Public Library Technology Teacher

This month’s column is going to establish me as a child of the ’60s and ’70s. Does anyone remember the old TV game show Password? If you don’t, a celebrity guest would give their contestant partner clues to a secret word for the partner to guess, while the host whispered in hushed tones: “The Password is …” and told the word to the home audience.

Often, we play a similar game with our computers and phones or tablets: we set a password or passcode when we first create an account, save it, and then we promptly forget the password, forcing us to guess it when we need it the most. Most likely, you’ve forgotten the password to your email account, your Facebook account, your Apple ID, your Amazon account or the login password to your personal computer, futilely attempting to guess what it was until you tried too many times and were locked out of your account.

If you’re fortunate, you’re able to reset the password easily. However, in other cases, the password reset steps may be complicated, using hard to answer security questions. As an example: “What was the name of your great-great-great-great-grandmother twice-removed?” or “What was the blood type of your best friend from grade school?” The reset system may also be completely automated, meaning there is no helpful person who can reset your password for you. An easier method is to use a specialized app or website, called a password manager, to store your passwords.

A password manager — such as LastPass or 1Password — is an app (or an app plus a website) that does one thing very well and it is far easier than guessing. It lets you store (and update) your user names and passwords to associated websites and accounts on your phone or online in a secure way: the app or website does not store or send your passwords in plain text but stores them in an encrypted (scrambled) format, so that even if someone were able to intercept or directly read your password data, they would only see random letters and numbers, like ok23b8a0i3j 293uivnfqf98vs87a ok23b8a0i3j 296uivnfqf95vs89a ok27b9a0i6j 299uivnfqf99vs93a.

Usually, the rule about securing passwords is “Don’t write them down and store them in an easily accessible place” like on a sheet taped to the desk next to the computer. But using a secure password manager is the one exception that can make managing your password collection a bit easier, so the next time your website or device asks: “The Password is …?” you will be able to answer the question with confidence.

Need more help? Come by the library’s Tech Help Walk-in Clinic any Tuesday morning 10 a.m. to noon.

Richard Leach-Steffens is the Technology Teacher at Maryville Public Library.

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