We're up to our ears in passwords. Passwords for Web forums, for banking sites, for shopping sites, for e-mail and to log on to computers. And don't forget our PINs for credit and debit cards.
In fact, there are so darned many that people, understandably, take shortcuts. They use the same password in several places: they use simple passwords that are easy to guess, or they write them on sticky notes. And sometimes they pay a high price for those shortcuts - when their accounts are hacked.
That doesn't have to happen. The same technology that has cursed us with so many passwords can also help us find the right one. There are apps for every smartphone platform that stash those pesky phrases securely while keeping them at our fingertips.
Here's but a small selection of the available apps:
BlackBerrys, as befits their enterprise-strength security, include a basic password keeper in the operating system. It's simple but effective. You choose a master password (and that's the only thing you have to remember), then enter each of your user IDs and passwords, the site to which each applies, a title for the record, and any applicable notes. The entire list is saved in an encrypted file. To retrieve a password, launch the app, enter the master password, then either scroll down the list or search for a keyword.
If you want something fancier, there's a collection of password keeper apps in the BlackBerry app store ranging in price from free to $30. For the price, the expensive products do include extra features. For example, InfoSafe Plus ($29.95 for BlackBerry, Palm or Windows Mobile) comes with a desktop client, the import of files of passwords from other sources, templates for storing credit card and bank account data, and the ability to wipe data after a configurable number of incorrect entries of the master password. You can download a 14-day trial version to test it before buying.
SplashID ($19.95) works for iPhone, iPad, Android, Palm OS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and phones running the Symbian Series 60 operating system. It, too, includes both desktop and mobile clients with two-way synchronization, and offers an encrypted repository for passwords, credit card numbers, software keys, PINs and so forth. It will also generate random passwords, and show how strong the ones you create really are. A 30-day trial version is available.
Ascendo's DataVault costs $29.95 for BlackBerry, $9.99 for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. This app displays items in both tree view, organized by category and type, and list view. It encrypts your private data using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and offers two-way synchronization with DataVault for Mac and DataVault for Windows (the Mac version is sold separately; the Windows version is bundled with the BlackBerry app). It also includes a password generator, display settings and advanced security options appropriate to each supported platform. The company offers a trial period of 20 days plus 10 sessions, and has a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Moxier Wallet is available for iPhone, iPod Touch or Android. It's free for the handheld-only version, $19.99 a year for the premium subscription. This app offers a litany of templates that allow you to store everything from passwords to product keys. It has AES encryption, search, password generator, self-destruct and auto-lock (just shake your phone to quickly lock the app). The premium account lets you securely back up your data to Moxier servers and sync several devices (via relay through Moxier) so you can do the heavy-duty data entry on your PC or Mac and sync it to the handheld.
Even the shiny new Windows Phone 7 has password keepers in its Marketplace app store, and at the rate the app collection is growing there will probably be new ones present by the time you read this. Password Padlock ($1.09) is a simple application that uses a master password as the key to encrypt all of the other data. You can store user ID, password, URL or description, and two user-defined fields worth of information. The software includes a password generator and will lock the user out for a configurable period after a specified number of incorrect attempts at the master password. The free trial limits the number of passwords you can store, but is otherwise fully functional. Password Vault, from Forficula ($1.09) has an interesting twist: if someone enters the wrong master password, it "reveals" the user IDs and passwords in your vault - just not the correct ones. It's a very simple app otherwise, allowing you to save just a title, user ID and password, and nothing else. It has a password generator as well. Another app, also named Password Vault (this time from Handy Dandy Software), costs $1.09 and stores a URL as well as the user ID, password and title of the account. I'm not convinced it encrypts its file contents, though, and there's no trial available as with most of the other apps. I'd be cautious with this one.
AP Easy Password Safe ($1.09) stores the same information as the Handy Dandy app but securely encrypts it using the master password you provide. To help protect you from occasional brain cramps, it allows you to provide a hint for the master password in case you forget it. The trial version allows you to store three passwords.
There are, of course, many other password keepers available, of varying sophistication and cost. If none of these strikes your fancy, check out your device's app store for yet more choices.