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Frustration with a folder stuffed full of written passwords prompted David Bergum to look for a better system. It was a particularly thorny problem because he divides his time between the northern Minnesota town of Isabella, North Carolina and New Zealand.
“I got sick of all the pieces of paper,” he said. “Especially traveling around, if I forget that folder down here and go Up North, I’m dead.”
He settled on 1Password, software that generates and remembers complex passwords along with user names for different sites. Now he only has to remember the master password to access 1Password via his Web browser or iPhone.
There are a variety of such apps, including LastPass, Roboform and KeePass, that all work a little differently but promise security through encryption. Some are free; others offer more features, such as synchronization across different devices, for a price. Experts say they can be a nice alternative for people who want to keep track of multiple passwords without writing them down.
Katie Leyman, of Edina, uses LastPass to track passwords, but isn’t sure she wants to surrender all her secrets to the technology. She stores most of her passwords in LastPass, but commits her passwords for e-mail and financial sites to memory.
“If your whole life is in there, you can’t get it back if you don’t remember what [the master password] is,” she said. “There was one moment I thought I forgot it. I was sitting there going, ‘Omigod, I can’t get to anything that I need.’ ”
The line between security and usability is a fine one.
Derek Meister, a Geek Squad agent, said it’s important not to make security so complex that people get overwhelmed and default to insecure habits, like repeating simple passwords. He suggests thinking about digital security much like home security. It’s not perfect, but it can be a deterrent to those aiming to make trouble.
“You’re not looking to make your house into Fort Knox. You’re looking to make your house hard enough to get into that somebody will say, ‘I’m going to go elsewhere,’ ” Meister said. “It’s the same with passwords.”
Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758