You just read about another online database hack, and now 4 million users' names and passwords are floating around the Internet--and you have a sinking feeling that one of them might be yours. And then there are the security breaches you don't hear about, the ones that leave nasty surprises in your inbox or on your credit card statement.
Because even a law-abiding citizen like you has a few secrets to keep, we've found five industrial-grade tools to help you hang on to what's yours. No need to enter a credit card number to get them, either--they're all free.
The cornerstone: KeePass
If you adopt just one security tool from this article, make it KeePass. This free and open-source password manager is available for Windows, with unofficial ports for iOS, Android, Linux, and Mac OS X. A secure, lengthy, completely random password goes a long way towards improving your security--and having a separate password for each and every website and service you use is the single most important thing you can do to keep secure.
For too many of us, the alternative to a password manager is using the same password everywhere. This means that if the user database of any one website you sign up for is compromised, hackers can (and often do) try your username and password on many other websites and gain access. So, seriously: Use a unique, difficult password for each and every website you sign up for, no matter how little you plan to visit it.
KeePass lets you keep all of these username/password pairs in a securely encrypted database, protected behind a single master password--the only password you'll have to remember. And unlike commercial competitor LastPass, KeePass doesn't automatically put your password database in the cloud (although you can put it into Dropbox yourself).
KeePass features its own random password generator, so you don't have to come up with random passwords on your own. It includes a quick-search box where you can type just a fragment of a website's name to quickly find it on your list. The list itself is built to contain thousands of records, and you can subdivide it into folders and subfolders to keep things organized. KeePass isn't limited to just usernames and passwords, either: Each entry has several other fields, including a free-form Notes field for securely storing any sort of text.
One way the baddies circumvent password protection is with a keylogger: an application (or a physical hardware dongle connected to your computer) that sits in the background, quietly logging every single keystroke you type, and later transmitting this information to an attacker. With a keylogger installed on your system, an attacker could potentially learn every single word you type throughout the day, including all of your usernames and passwords.
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