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I have about 180 passwords for different websites and web services. They are all stored in one single password protected Excel document. As the list gets longer I am more and more concerned about its security.

Just how secure, or should I say insecure, is a password protected Excel document? What's the best practice for storing this many passwords in a secure and easy manageable way?

I find the Excel method to be easy enough, but I am concerned about the security aspect.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 190 down vote accepted

My favorite password storage tool is KeePass:

enter image description here

What is KeePass?

Today you need to remember many passwords. You need a password for the Windows network logon, your e-mail account, your website's FTP password, online passwords (like website member account), etc. etc. etc. The list is endless. Also, you should use different passwords for each account. Because if you use only one password everywhere and someone gets this password you have a problem... A serious problem. The thief would have access to your e-mail account, website, etc. Unimaginable.

KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish). For more information, see the features page.


Is there any limit as to how many passwords you can store in it?

Only in theory. You can put as many entries into the database as you want, but at some point your USB key or HDD will be full.

Is there a way to automatically sync changed passwords?

No, not like you expect it.
You'll want to make that a regular, manual process. This can not and should not be automated.

I like to set up expiration dates for all my password entries: enter image description here
Then I remember to change my passwords regularly. I store the URL of the website with the password entry, so it's a quick process.

Can I automatically log on to a website like Facebook using this software?

No, not automatically either (at least to my knowledge). But this is where Auto-Type comes into play. For example, for Facebook, this is my Auto-Type setup:

enter image description here

As you can see, I've created 3 configurations for different browser titles. This allows me to simply go to facebook.com, press Ctrl+Alt+A, and the username and password will be automatically entered and I will be logged in.

If you have multiple username/password combinations for the same window title, you'll get a popup window asking you which password entry should be used.

What about mobile?

There are apps that support the KeePass container format on mobile devices. But I stay away from those. I just don't like the thought of my KeePass database on my phone.

I prefer to only transfer single passwords using the QR Code Generator plugin. It lets you generate a QR Code from a password, which you can then scan with your phone. It helps to have an app that can copy the scanned content to clipboard.

enter image description here

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If you put it in Dropbox you can open it anywhere (theres a portable version), even on your phone. Plus it can be imported into Lastpass. Great choice –  Ivo Flipse Jun 5 '12 at 11:19
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@Oliver This seems to be just the tool I need. I will definitely give this a try. The expiration date feature is sweet! And the auto-type is simple enough. I understand that some websites may require you to confirm a password change by clicking on a link they send via email, so for that reason any auto-sync feature the way I imagined it would fail to sync and auto-update the password. It's a plus that this works on other OSes than just Windows. Danke Oli! ;) –  sammyg Jun 5 '12 at 11:36
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I've been using this for a few years - works great. I store it in a BoxCryptor (free) container on DropBox for additional security, that way I can share the database between my PC and laptop. I also tried it on Linux a few weeks ago (using encFS to open the BoxCryptor container) and that worked fine as well - Linux just didn't like my laptop so that part was short-lived. :\ –  MetalMikester Jun 5 '12 at 11:42
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If you want added security for use in Dropbox, use a key file in conjunction with a password and manually copy it to any computer or device you want to have access to your passwords (don't store the key in Dropbox). AFAIK this only works with Android and rooted iOS devices since you need access to the file system, but without the key file the password file is all but uncrackable. –  Paperjam Jun 5 '12 at 12:19
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@Reid: From my experience, KeePass2 works well on Mono; it's just ugly, and that's a Mono vs .NET thing. –  grawity Jun 5 '12 at 15:25

There appear to be several easy to use Excel password crackers around.

I would use a password management system like 1password or LastPass which work on several OSs including mobiles.

These have plugins for most browsers which can fill in passwords and other information to the web form. 1password can also set up a bookmark in the browser which will automatically login (All uses of the app require use of a master password first)

1password can also store notes, account (e.g. email, ftp) and templates to help store credit card, bank account and other information. Although it is commercial you can get a free demo that allows entry of up to 20 items.

One difference between the two is that 1password only stores the data locally (although you can sync the encrpted data using dropbox or similar) , Lastpass can (must? someone please correct this) store the data on its web site which allows web access to the data and no need for dropbox etc.

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Excel passwords are very easy to crack. Google Excel password cracker and you will see many options. +1 for Lastpass. I used to use Roboform, but liked Lastpass better because it is cross platform. I use their password generator to randomize passwords. –  Kendor Jun 5 '12 at 12:56
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Last pass is nice. I use it. It stores your passwords on a server but in encrypted form. It's encrypted before sending to server and decrypted on your machine. You just have to remember one password, it allows easily fill in of passwords on demand without even typing them in. –  MadBoy Jun 5 '12 at 13:15
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+1 for LastPass - It's unfortunate that the answer with all the nice formatting and pictures is for KeePass, as LastPass is vastly superior: it does everything KeePass does, but also has plugins for every major browser, OS, and mobile platform. It also stores data online so you never have to worry about losing it (and caches it locally, so you never have to worry about their servers going down), yet encrypts everything using TNO (trust no one), so LastPass can never actually see your passwords. There are very few programs I ever call absolutely perfect, but LastPass is one of them. –  BlueRaja Jun 5 '12 at 16:25
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LastPass now also supports 2-factor authentication via Android/iPhones now as well, meaning someone would first need to steal your phone to launch your Authenticator app (which generates a random code every 30 seconds) to access your passwords. –  glenneroo Jun 5 '12 at 18:04
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@Sammy: Yes, most of the features are free forever. The only features you need to pay for are the mobile apps and multi-factor authentication, which require a "premium account" ($12/year). The author is not trying to get rich off the program - I don't use the premium features, but still pay for a premium account to show my gratitude. I usually only donate to open-source projects, so that tells you something :) –  BlueRaja Jun 6 '12 at 15:58

I have used Lastpass for a while now and recommend it highly. It has some wonderful browser plugins and a bunch of features that make it easier to have more secure passwords.

The browser plugin will automatically fill-in login information (when logged into the plugin). It also has an export functionality, so you can retrieve your database and import it into KeePass for example. It also uses two-step authentication for extra security.

Desktop client:

Browser plugin:

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@PITaylor Thank you! I will definitely test LastPass. But for now I will give KeePass some more time to evaluate it. –  sammyg Jun 6 '12 at 9:55
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The big reason I like LastPass is because it is easy to share a set of passwords on multiple computers easily and you can always access your passes on a random computer through the web interface. –  PlTaylor Jun 6 '12 at 13:38
    
I use lastpass, however there are 2 downsides. 1) The server can go down (either technical issues, or the company goes out of business, etc) 2) Some companies dont allow it, as you are sending passwork info out of the company. –  Keltari May 13 '13 at 17:30

Password Hasher plugin (for Firefox) is what I personally use.

How Password Hasher helps:

  • Automatically generates strong passwords.
  • One master key produces different passwords at many sites.
  • Quickly upgrade passwords by "bumping" the site tag.
  • Upgrade a master key without updating all sites at once.
  • Supports different length passwords.
  • Supports special requirements, such as digits and punctuation.
  • Supports restricting a hash word to not use special characters. (New!)
  • Saves all data to the browser's secure password database.
  • Generates a portable HTML page with your site tags and option settings that allows you to generate your hash words in any browser on any machine without the extension installed. (New!)
  • Can add marker buttons to unmask passwords on any web site. (New!)
  • Extremely simple to use!

enter image description here

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They must be stored somewhere or else they would be forgotton –  Mark Jun 5 '12 at 13:04
    
There are also ports for Chrome. –  rishimaharaj Jun 5 '12 at 13:10
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By @kutschkem: No, the passwords Don't need to be stored somewhere. What the plugin probably does (at least this is how I would do it), is to hash the concatenation of the site tag and the master password, which will result in a different (and supposedly strong) password for every site (without storing anything, see?). Of course your master password would still need to be strong. The advantage is that not only will every password be different, they will be very different (at least if the hashing function is good). –  Oliver Salzburg Jun 5 '12 at 15:12
    
There is also a port for IE, written by a very handsome person –  BlueRaja Jun 5 '12 at 16:12
    
@Matthew: That is true of every password storage solution... –  BlueRaja Jun 5 '12 at 19:19

I personally use PasswordMaker to generate passwords from a master password and the site's URL. The project is fairly mature, open-source and stable. It is available for Firefox (as an extension), Linux CLI, Android etc.

How it works:

Warning - technical jargon in this section! You provide PasswordMaker two pieces of information: a "master password" -- that one, single password you like -- and the URL of the website requiring a password. Through the magic of one-way hash algorithms, PasswordMaker calculates a message digest, also known as a digital fingerprint, which can be used as your password for the website. Although one-way hash algorithms have a number of interesting characteristics, the one capitalized by PasswordMaker is that the resulting fingerprint (password) does "not reveal anything about the input that was used to generate it.". In other words, if someone has one or more of your generated passwords, it is computationally infeasible for him to derive your master password or to calculate your other passwords. Computationally infeasible means even computers like this won't help!

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Thanks! I will check it out. –  sammyg Jun 6 '12 at 11:03

It is risky to trust a third-party application to store your important passwords especially those applications that are potentially able to connect online or those you authorize them to access the processes of other program; and more importantly to trust non-open source ones.

A more secure way, in my opinion, is to store your important passwords in a text file (.TXT) and then encrypt the file with AES algorithm by dsCrypt.exe. You are required to enter your main password into dsCrypt only once and you will be able to encrypt/decrypt you password text file many times without asking you re-enter the main password every time as long as dsCrypt is running. You can auto-run dsCrypt with your Windows start and enter your main password once; and what you need then is just to drag and drop your password file (.txt) onto dsCrypt to de/encrypt it when you need your passwords.

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I use Notepad and .txt files. If you want my advice, I advice you not to use a third party sodtware. From where do you know they are not stealing your passwords?
So using text files would be the best.
Also if you are a programmer, I suggest you to build a simple one for yourself that uses encoding to secure data. Thats the best solution.

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