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6 Questions About Managing Passwords

By Caralee Epp

Passwords – we all have them, but are you practising good password hygiene? Nickkisha Farrell-Myles, AMA’s manager of IT security and compliance, answers some pressing questions about these essential combinations of letters, numbers and symbols.


ARE PASSWORDS REALLY ALL THAT IMPORTANT?

Yes, yes and yes! They’re often the only thing standing between a hacker and your personal data. Nowadays, we have so many online accounts. And passwords protect everything from our bank accounts and payment details to sensitive work emails and health information.

A 2017 survey conducted by Dashlane and Virginia Tech found an average internet user in North America has 150 different online accounts. To avoid possible hacks and identity fraud, never reuse the same password for multiple accounts. And, when possible, enable multi-factor authentication for an added layer of protection.

MY BROWSER OFFERS TO SAVE MY PASSWORDS WHEN I’M SURFING THE WEB. IS THAT GOOD ENOUGH?

It might be, especially if you use your browser to prevent you from reusing the same password everywhere. But stand-alone password manager apps, such as LastPass, KeePass or Dashlane, offer unique benefits.

Browser-makers have higher priorities than password management. So, they offer to save your passwords to make the surfing experience more convenient, but not necessarily to protect your data. Password managers are more secure and accessible from a variety of browsers and devices.

HOW EXACTLY DO PASSWORD MANAGERS WORK?

They help you generate unique passwords of varying lengths and complexity for every account you create, to prevent hackers from finding out you used the same password on multiple accounts. Password managers also require multi-factor authentication to ensure it’s really you trying to access your account, and protect you from phishing attempts using imposter websites.

ANY OTHER UNIQUE FEATURES? 

You can store credit card info and other private data to simplify online shopping. The family-sharing function helps you access common info, and even designate an emergency contact who can access your accounts should something happen to you. 

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ARE THERE ANY RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH PASSWORD MANAGERS?

As with any digital technology, if the app suffers an attack, it could compromise your passwords. An outage could also temporarily disrupt your access. But it’s important to understand that while these risks exist, they’re unlikely to happen.

The risk is far greater that you could be hacked due to weak or reused passwords. Start with a few low-value accounts—news subscriptions or free online seminars. Once you’re more familiar with the password manager, try higher-value accounts that store your credit card details (think Netflix or iTunes), and build up to your highest-risk services, like online banking. 

HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT PASSWORD MANAGER?

Risk tolerances differ greatly. You might prefer options that store passwords on your devices,
while others may be more comfortable with a cloud-based password manager. Regardless of which one you choose, look for features like:

•encryption and multi-factor authentication capabilities
•compatibility with your devices
•recovery access in case you lose a device or forget your master password
•cost

Start with a free app to learn how it works. Then, consider upgrading for greater security and features.