Unforgettable Passwords

November 12, 2012


How many passwords do you have? Michael has 221; David has 210. Some are for social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, while others are for services used occasionally, such as SoundCloud (a place to store and share audio files) or Tripit (a travel app). The rest are for services and tools we have tried out but haven’t used lately, such as Second Life. There are “real life” passwords, too. David has a federal student aid password for his oldest daughter. Both of us have travel-related passwords (i.e., mileage and awards programs), not to mention credit card and bank passwords. David’s church even has a password for its online member forum.

Regardless of the number of passwords you may have, we all know they can be difficult to keep track of. And now, there’s an even greater concern about security because of improved computer processing speeds, which enable hacking programs to identify valid password combinations with rapid ease. So, how can you keep your passwords safe and memorable? Here are some tips.

Mnemonically yours

David asked his Twitter and Facebook contacts; some said they simply write them down in a notebook or on a piece of scrap paper. Not the most secure, but it works for some people.

Many have a knack for remembering things and use this ability to track passwords. Via Facebook, librarian Jim Peterson said he writes them down immediately and refers to them until they’re committed to memory. Via Twitter, librarian Vassiliki Veros similarly wrote, “I memorize them, but they’re all around the same theme. Husband uses same theme, so we know each other’s in case of misadventure.”

Some people create a formula that helps them create unique, strong passwords that are also easy to remember. Librarian Toby Greenwalt tweeted that he uses a formula that employs “a consistent alphanumeric phrase and plugs in a mnemonic that uses the name of the site.” For example, he wrote, “if my phrase is mypassword, I’d throw in a number or two and either ‘tw’ or ‘wt,’ making mYp2ssTww0rd.”

Comedian and consultant Adam St. John Lawrence explained via Twitter that he uses a standard stem and then adds some “slightly cryptified elements” based on the service he is using. For Facebook, he may create pa55r00t-613, in which pa55r00t is the stem and the remaining numbers correspond to letters: 6 equals “F,” 1 equals “A,” etc.

Want to know more about formula-based passwords? Check out “Geek to Live: Choose (and Remember) Great Passwords,” by Gina Trapani on Lifehacker.

Use an app

A variety of software tools can also help. For example, a simple spreadsheet is a pretty handy tool, and it’s what David’s IT department uses to store passwords. They’re on one or two password-protected spreadsheets, with a printout stored in a safe.

Other people use browser-based password storage. Most modern browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, and newer versions of Internet Explorer remember passwords, and Keychain Access for Macs is connected to Safari. Both work well for password storage.

There are also some helpful software tools created for storing usernames and passwords. Here’s a list of apps people have mentioned:

We all need to remember our passwords. Whatever way—or ways—you choose to do so, make sure to manage those usernames and passwords so you don’t forget them.



How to Celebrate Women’s History @ Your Library

Telling the story of women’s work is never done.

Marketing Your Library

An interview with Terry Kendrick, guru of strategic marketing in libraries