Create your own simple Password Manager

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All you need is Word or Excel or similar

Sign up screen with wall behindA lot of my IT support clients complain that they just can’t keep track of multiple passwords – so they re-use the same ones.

The best solution is to use a password manager such as Dashlane or BitWarden. This seems like overkill for a lot of people, making life even more complicated. And one thing we know about computer software is that if it is too complicated  then people will not use it.

So, a balanced solution for a lot of people is to create a simple password manager. As well as being simple, it will be close to hand, quick to use and easy to update.

To begin with, what data do we need to keep in our simple password manager?

I recommend that, every time you create a new account and password, you record:

Today’s date

You may think this un-necessary, but it can help you decide which of two passwords is the more recent. Also,Google (for instance) asks during an account recovery process for the date that you created the account.

The username on the account

This is probably, but not necessarily, an email address. And most of us have several of those. If you might have used one of three usernames  and one of three passwords that you habitually re-use (!), then there are already nine possible combinations. So, always write down the username. Yes, I can hear you – “I only have one email address so I don’t need to write it down”. But what if the username isn’t your email address in this instance? You won’t remember that fact – so write it down.

The email address (if different from username)

Believe it or not, some account providers ask you to specify both, so it’s better to have a record of both.

The password

The subject of what makes an adequate password is too big to discuss here, but it stands to reason that you are going to write it down here. Use a minimum of 12 characters and NEVER EVER re-use a password.

Recovery information

Most online accounts will now ask for an email address and/or a mobile phone number where the account provider can send a code that allows you to get back into your account if there is a password problem. My experience tells me that it is most definitely a good thing to be unequivocally certain as to this recovery information. If you are having password problems you really do not want to be asking yourself “did I use my Hotmail address, my son’s address, my daughter’s address as the recovery address?”

Other information

For instance, the web address of where you actually get into the account. Note that both Excel and Word will automatically create clickable links to web addresses that they find in any worksheet/document.

Whether you record details of password updates here, or create a new entry when something changes, is a matter of choice. However you do it, make sure you put a date on updates. Also, make sure you know how to search for multiple entries that refer to the same item.

The next important question is – of course – the security of your simple password manager

Whether you use a word processing document or a spreadsheet is just a matter of choice – as is the formatting. Personally I would use Excel and place one username/password combination on each row.

Note pad refers to Word document for passwordsYou must password-protect your document/worksheet

If you are using any program other than Microsoft Word or Excel then you need to ensure that it will allow you to assign a password. This is how that’s done in Word or Excel in Office 2016 (and Office 365):

The process is exactly the same in Word as in Excel except that Word refers to “documents” and Excel refers to “worksheets”:

  • Click on the “File” menu (top left of Word or Excel window)
  • Then click on the box labelled “Protect Document” (or “Workbook”)
  • And then click on “Encrypt with password”
  • Type your new password in the box provided and then click on “OK”
  • Type the same password again (to ensure that you typed the password as you intended)
  • Save your document/workbook by clicking on “Save” in the left sidebar

Are the days of the post-it note numbered? As far as passwords are concerned, they certainly should be.

When you think it’s time to take the plunge and invest in a “proper” password manager, have a look at https://www.wired.com/story/best-password-managers/

Finally: it is essential that you record any changes of passwords in the same place as soon as possible. Yes, I know it’s a pain in the neck, but so is getting back into an account when you can’t find the password!


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