Password Managers for the Non-Technical

Most of the folk who read this blog probably know what a password manager is. You likely even have opinions about what the best one is. The core audience to the Networked Mortality project, however, does not. While any user of technology is impacted by digital estate planning (either because they are doing it or because they are not doing it), few have the technical literacy to manage their digital assets. These skills are necessary to plan for the future of those assets, which is what is then defined in an estate plan. In order to move into management and future planning, this first in a series of posts will describe what a password manager is in this context. The following entries will cover how to set up a password manager with estate planning in mind; and a checklist with extra credit.

Many folk (maybe that’s you!) keep passwords in written format, share passwords with a family member, or have the browser remember passwords. These are understandable ways of dealing with your accounts – remembering passwords is hard! But these techniques don’t set you up to succeed for estate planning, nor do they protect you from abuses.

The area of study dedicated to thinking about how computers store and transmit information to authorized and unauthorized users is called Information Security, sometimes abbreviated to “InfoSec.” InfoSec experts have long advocated for “strong” passwords, meaning they should be long, with many strange characters. For instance, “password” is not a good password. “2=7Am8,KI5eOL!3AnvbGHjT” is a great password. But how would anyone remember something like that?!

Luckily, smart people have made something called a Password Manager. There are now many different options available, but they all basically work like this:

  1. You create a vault, which requires one password to lock and unlock.
  2. By unlocking that vault, always with that one password, you can use all the other passwords you usually have access to. You don’t have to remember which password goes to which account – the vault does that for you!

This means that you need to remember one password, and because the program is remembering all the rest of them for you, they can be long and complicated like D7z8~t;adn4VfLqR!LhUzLlix}sSH6H|1 which prevents others from guessing them. It’s like carrying around a bag full of keys. You only have to remember the one bag in order to have all the keys with you.

  1. Then you need to put your current keys into the vault. Each password manager has a clear way to add accounts – often as you use them.
  2. This is also an excellent time to change simple or redundant passwords into complex ones.

Please take a look at some password managers – do a search for “password manager” and read what other folk have to say about them. The next post will take you though thinking about using password managers for estate planning, Thursday’s post will include questions to keep in mind while doing so, and a final blog post will offer a checklist and some extra credit.

I’m super happy to answer any questions you have. These blog posts will be further improved upon as people ask questions and point out issues – so every bit of feedback you give helps others.