Passwords – they are everywhere in our digital lives: securing our email, bank accounts, social media and more. Ensuring your online accounts are safe from prying eyes is important. Read our handy guide to learn about choosing a secure password, whether or not you should be using iCloud Keychain and how to easily manage passwords on your Mac.

How to choose a good password

What makes a good password? Security experts’ say a good password will contain upper and lowercase letters, punctuation, a number and be 8-14 characters long. A solid password will be hard for computers and humans to guess, but easy for you to remember. If your password is so hard to recall that you have to write it down or post it on a sticky note at your desk it’s almost useless.

Try some of the following to generate good passwords:

  • Use an algorithm or password generator. This will often create a hard to remember password however, so you may wish to use this in conjunction with a password manager.
  • Use deliberate misspelling of words, as these do not appear in the dictionary or invented words/nonsense that you have come up with.
  • Use a password manager. This will be discussed more later on in the article.

Never use personal information such as your birthday or phone number or social security as a password. It is also bad practice to use names of your family or significant other. In the event it is cracked or guessed your other information could be at risk. This also makes it easier to guess if somebody knows you. So avoid having the login to your bank be “David” or “8thApril”.

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Passwords vs Passphrases

A passphrase differs from a password by being a string of words separated by a space. These are generally 3-4 words long and still satisfy good password standards such as uppercase letters and punctuation. “My neighbour has Cats!” or “Vermont gets very cold” would be some passphrase examples. These are considered better than passwords since they provide a way to create a complex password that is easy to type and remember.

Many applications and websites increasingly support the use of passphrases. As with regular password creation, a good passphrase will be unique to you and not easy for anyone else to know. We recommend you start using passphrases where possible.

Even great passwords (or passphrases) can become bad if managed improperly. Here are some good habits to follow:

  • Never share your password.
  • Don’t let other people watch you type your password.
  • Log out properly of public or shared systems.
  • Change your passwords every 3-6 months and don’t reuse them.

Should you use it Apple's iCloud Keychain

Apple introduced the iCloud Keychain in Mavericks (10.9) as a convenient way to store and sync your usernames, passwords and credit card info across all of your approved devices. (Running iOS 7.0.3 if iPhone or iPad.) Apple states that iCloud Keychain is protected with industry-standard encryption techniques on all of your devices, both in transit and in the cloud. This is about as secure as you can get, so if you are worried that your info isn’t secure enough from Apple’s end, rest easy.

Your decision to use the iCloud Keychain or not should depend on your needs and the way you use your computer(s). The cloud keychain only works with Safari and not other browsers such as FireFox or Chrome. Additionally it is not cross-platform compatible like some password management software is.

These alone may be deal-breakers for many, but if you love Safari and only use Mac’s, then it is a solid and free option.

There are some considerations to be aware of when using iCloud Keychain:

  • If you are concerned about cloud storage or just don’t wish to do so you may skip storing your data in iCloud and simply store your keychain data locally. This then will update via wi-fi on any approved devices.
  • If working on a shared computer, note that anyone on your user will have access to all your logins or sites. Be sure to log out or set a password on sleep or screen-saver.

To begin using iCloud Keychain on your Mac, go to System Preferences, then click on iCloud and select Keychain. Enter your Apple ID & password then follow the instructions to complete setup.

iCloud Keychain is handy, but not a fully featured standalone password manager. If you are looking for something more robust, you should consider using a fully featured app instead of or in addition to iCloud Keychain.

What is the best Password Manager? iCloud Keychain or 1Password, or something else...

Are password managers right for you? That depends on a few different factors. If you have dozens of accounts or frequently log in to multiple accounts on a daily basis, you may wish to consider using a password manager. They will streamline your workflow and turn the annoying process of entering all that information into a one-click process.

If you are already using iCloud Keychain, a manager can offer more features such as full browser compatibility, storing sensitive documents, organization options, cross-platform compatibility and security audits. Here is a basic list of popular software to get you started from free apps to top-of-the-line software.

LastPass

Price: Free. iOS Apps require paid upgrade.

If you don’t want to fork over your hard earned cash for an app yet, LastPass is a great place to start. What is better than free? LastPass is ideal for users who want increased security with minimal effort. A completely web-based storage approach makes setup a breeze. The only downside here is that the interface lacks a true Mac look and feel.

OneSafe

Price: £12 for Mac. £4 for iOS.

Onesafe offers password management and features at an affordable price. Unlike most competitors OneSafe lets you choose from four different unlocking mechanisms to access your data. It also includes a convenient drag-and-drop feature for storing documents and files.

1Password

Price: £30 for Mac. £5 for iOS.

The current king of password management on the Mac, 1Password offers a premium price for premium features. Plug-ins for every browser, strong organization, vault sharing and a slick interface are all good reasons to check this app out.

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