Welcome back to my four part series on getting control over your passwords. Hopefully, you read the introduction and agree that you need to do something. So why haven’t you started?
You’re not alone! Most people don’t like taking inventory of “stuff”. It’s not fun to try and remember things you’ve done rather than looking ahead. At Lökwest, we’re always looking toward the future, but we always try to find time to “clean house” and you should too.
If you have an outdated list or have started this project before, it hasn’t worked because you’re reading now! Not to mention, it seems like every other day there’s another place asking you to create a new password. You know the reasons you’ve put off doing a thorough password inventory!
- You feel “dumb” that you can’t remember passwords
- You feel even “dumber” that we can’t even remember where you’ve put in passwords
- You think it’s too much to tackle
- You don’t know what to do with the passwords when you get them
- You did an inventory but never kept it up to date
- You got “stuck” trying to remember a password someplace
- There just isn’t time
Let’s put aside the past and start with a fresh password inventory and strategy today.
Step 1: Where will you put your inventory?
For today’s exercise, we’ll keep it simple. You need a list that you can keep in a VERY SAFE PLACE. We’ll only need this list until we put a strategy in place for managing passwords. What kind of list works for you? For my inventory, I used the basic Notepad function in Windows. You could use any word processing software or even a spreadsheet to do the task.
If technology is preventing you from making a list, pick up a pencil and paper! The last I looked, they still work! Don’t let the computer be your excuse.
If your list is electronic, save in a safe location on a local computer or USB drive, never on the cloud. Personally, I prefer a USB drive, because once it’s disconnected from the computer and stored safely, it’s your information. If your list is paper, I have to state the obvious. Don’t leave it laying out!
Step 2: Setup the list
Now that you have a list open, add 5 columns to it:
- Website or Application Name
- Member ID (if available)
- Last verified date
That’s all. Keep it simple. This information is all we’ll need to get going. You may have some more information like password recovery options and other user data for some sites, but we’ll worry about that later.
Step 3. Where are my passwords?
Here’s where people get frustrated and go wrong. You aren’t expected to sit down and start filling out everything in one session from memory. This is a working exercise, not something to be done at once.
DO Keep your list handy for a few days or (in my case) weeks while you’re watching TV, checking your e-mails, paying your bills, and going about your digital routine. Make sure you’re always ready to add something new when you remember or use it. I had sticky notes handy every place I normally sit down. Then, at the end of each day I added the stickies to my list and destroyed them.
The point is do whatever works for you. Just do it and keep it safe.
DON’T stop your routine and whatever you’re doing to try and remember/recover user name and passwords if they don’t immediately come to mind. We’re only trying to get a growing list of where you’ve used passwords. I’ve found that people get stuck trying to remember the first password on their inventory. Their day is interrupted, and they give up.
We’ll work on recovering passwords later. And, if you follow my strategy you’ll end up changing all your passwords before we’re done. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.
- If you use a username or password anywhere in the course of your day, add it to the list
- If you remember a website or application but not the username or password, add it to the list. It’s better to write the name of it and “lookup later”, than to get distracted or frustrated.
Here are a few ideas of places you may be using passwords:
- Bill paying
- Shopping websites
- Phone based applications
- Cloud storage
- Computer / device authentication
- Apple / Android / Microsoft accounts
- Other subscriptions – music, antivirus, content
Keep the exercise up of adding to your list for a week or so. You’ll be surprised at how many places you visit with a username and password. (I’m well over 50 myself!)
At the end, you’ll have a list, albeit with some incomplete entries. Never mind. You’ve identified where the challenge lies, and that’s the first step!