Personal Password System: How to Keep Your Passwords Organized

Passwords are a fact of high-tech life. For those of us who do practically everything online, the process of managing passwords for umpteen websites is tedious but critical to our security. Over time, I’ve created a personal password system that helps me stay organized. By developing a sense of structure for all your passwords, you can ensure that your information remains safe and protected while also saving time and implementing changes easily. Consider this overview of my personal password system along with some tips for organization.

Personal Password System: Different Site Types = Different Passwords

Because I do so much online, it’s completely impractical to have a different password for every unique website, yet a universal password would also be imprudent. Instead, I maintain a designated password for each category and change it on a regular basis (with one exception).

Personal Password System, Part 1: Email. I see the email password as a special gateway password, so I always make sure it stands on its own, separate from everything else and changed every month. Why? It’s because so many websites are designed with your email address as your login ID or user name. MySpace is just one example of this. Since you wouldn’t want to go around the net entering your email address paired up with the same password you use to access email, keep the email password distinct and special. If you have multiple email addresses, then I recommend maintaining a distinct, unique password for each one.

Personal Password System, Part 2: Financial Sites. I use the same password for any sites on which I do banking, online bill payment, or taxes. Examples include: banks, PayPal, insurance, cell phone, Turbo Tax, and credit cards. I change this password every two or three months, and because the sites are all grouped together in my bookmarks, it’s easy to go through the list and change it on every site in succession.

Personal Password System, Part 3: Membership Sites (used regularly). For sites that I log into frequently – but which aren’t necessarily financial in nature – I keep a distinct password. Examples include: blogs, online newspapers, MySpace, and Craigslist. As with the Type B websites, I keep all of the frequent-use links bookmarked in the same location so that I change all the passwords in easy succession every two or three months.

Personal Password System, Part 4: Membership Sites (used rarely). You’ve undoubtedly had the experience of having to create a login and password for random websites that you only intend to use once in a blue moon. It’s a bit annoying, but we do what we have to. For these low-priority occasions, I keep a distinct password. That way, I’m never providing one of my more important passwords to a less important party. This is the one password I don’t change on a regular basis because there’s no pressing security concern when it comes to the “Travel Quest message board” and the like. Accordingly, this password easy to remember, and I almost never have to go through a forgotten password ordeal when I go back to a site eight months after signing up.

In short: By using the categories above, I never have more than four passwords: one for email, one for financial sites, one for frequent-use membership websites, and one for low-priority websites. I change the first three passwords consistently and leave the last one the same for convenience.

Personal Password System: Other Tips

Home v. Work. Always keep work-related passwords separate from your personal password system. When I worked in more traditional office settings, I found that the character requirements and the rotations on which passwords needed to be changed were just too disparate to be integrated with my personal password system. For example, I worked for a large bank and found that I had no fewer than 7 different passwords, and only 3 of them could ever be the same at one time because some expired after 30 days, some changed whenever there was a security concern, etc. It just makes sense to keep “home” and “work” mutually exclusive.

The right feel. I try to “test” my typing of various passwords before I input them to make sure I can enter them easily. Unless you’re an efficient typist (and I’m definitely not), entering a password like “chi52sin97au” frequently – without slipping up – might be a little tricky. Yet another equally powerful combination of letters and numbers like “oth41ello938” might work better for your fingers and physical memory. This differs for each person based on their typing prowess, but I think it’s worth practicing a new password in an empty word document a few times just to make sure you like how it feels.

Safe but practical combos. Most people know that a robust combination of letters and numbers makes for a more secure password – especially when the letters and numbers are mixed together within the password (not just “abc123”). Some sites also let you use other special characters, but I tend to avoid doing this because it varies so much and interferes with my personal password system as described above.

Use common sense. This should go without saying, but don’t choose anything that would be easy for others to guess: a child’s name, a birthday, the name of your street, etc. Pick something peculiar but something you can memorize. Never write passwords down, as that undermines their purpose. I tend to scold my friend who keep post-it notes on their home computers with messages like: “password for is chubbybunny.”

Length. Questions frequently come up about how to handle the fact that different websites require different password lengths. I’d recommend picking a length that seems to be consistent across the sites you use. In my personal password system, I always shoot for 8 characters because that length almost always falls in the range requested. Whether it’s 6-8, 6-12, 7-10, 5-12âÂ?¦.8 usually works!

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