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Articles: Remembering All 100 Passwords

Over the last decade, I have accumulated nearly 100 passwords, more than any one person should be expected to remember. During the early years, I used the same password for everything. Although this method works most of the time, it's not very secure. Later on I started using Apple's Keychain to remember my passwords. This worked well until the website changed its layout and consequently it was no longer recognized by Safari's AutoFill function. Then I was stuck without any chance of remembering what the password was. Because AutoFill remembered the password for me, I did not even use a cute way of recalling that password (For instance, I once used a combination of my dog's name and my childhood home's street address). So I had to reset my password, right? No, I didn't, and neither do you. If this happens to you, there is a perfect little utility on your hard drive waiting to bail you out. It's called Keychain Access and like its name implies, it gives you access to all your saved passwords in the OS X Keychain.

You may be wondering why you need to use a utility to remember passwords, probably because you are still using the "one password for everything" method. It is important not to use the same password for everything. One reason is that it doesn't work for every situation. Some passwords require you to use upper case and lower case letters combined with numbers. Some will only use numbers. Additionally, many IT people have caught on to the "one password for everything" password and force users to change passwords on a schedule. The end result is most people have at least a half dozen passwords and it can take five attempts trying all the possibilities in order to find the right one.

The other reason to use different passwords is if you get fooled once into giving out one of your passwords (or is an easy one that a misguided soul might be able to guess at), the crook won't have access to everything. Hopefully you have never been and never will be caught in a phishing scam, but it can happen. Some day you may think you are giving your user name and password to eBay, only to find out later it was a phishing scam. That criminal can then not only take over your eBay account, but will also try that same information every place to see if they can get into your bank or email accounts. If your passwords are all the same, then there is nothing stopping a complete hijacking of your online persona.

Now for the other side of the password problem, how do you remember all of those passwords? The answer is obviously with the help of Keychain and AutoFill, but those don't always work as advertised. When my banking site changes its home page, as it has three times in as many years, the AutoFill stops working. AutoFill thinks that it's at a website it has never seen before and for the most part, it is. But despite its new look and updated web address, it's still the old account information I need. Applications and networks also have passwords that need to be remembered. The OS X Keychain is quick to offer its services, but like AutoFill it can become confused when things change slightly. This is why you need the Keychain Access utility; it will recover your passwords in the Keychain.

Keychain Access is located where most of Apple's utilities are found, in /Applications/Utilities/. When it launches, Keychain Access will open a window that is divided into three sections, one long pane on the left and two wide panes on the right. In the left pane is the list of all your passwords, certificates, and keys. Next to "Passwords" is an expanded options triangle. Clicking on the triangle will expand the menu to show your three password types: "AppleShare, Applications, and Internet." If you click on "Internet" the bottom right windowpane will show a list of your usernames and passwords saved from Safari's AutoFill. Clicking once on a listing will show you some details in the top right windowpane, but double clicking will open a new window. Inside the new window is, among other information, your user account name for that particular website. Near the bottom of the window is a check box labeled "Show Password:" with a text box behind it. Putting a check in that checkbox will display your password but only after you enter your OS X User password. When you enter your OS X User password you have two choices of how to unlock the password "Allow Once" or "Always Allow." For security reasons you should only click on "Allow Once." Anytime you need to know your passwords they can all be accessed from here, provided you have them remembered by the Keychain.

The Keychain Access utility enables every user to practice good password behaviors. There are no excuses anymore. Always use different passwords for every account and utilize your AutoFill feature. I encourage you to make complicated passwords that you would never trust your mind alone to remember. Make your passwords difficult and let your friendly Mac do the hard work of remembering all 100 of them for you.

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