P.S. You Need a Password Manager

[dropcap2]W[/dropcap2]hat single piece of technology could change your life in the New Year? There is a simple answer, but it’s best if I explain a little bit. We live online: banking, email, social networking, extra curricular activities. Nearly everything we do has an online equivalent, which means a password will be needed to participate. Passwords are now a fact of life, particularly to life on-line. In an informal poll of my friends, not one person had a secure way to manage their passwords. Ranging from Post-It notes on a computer screen to un-encrypted text documents, (Google Docs, Word Docs, Stickies), not one person I asked had a secure or successful way to to keep track of the gatekeepers to their digital lives: Passwords.

Because of that, my friends inevitably end up choosing terrible passwords. I get it. Coming up with passwords is difficult. Even more difficult to remember said passwords, especially if you have different passwords for different services – which you should. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if you want to participate in a digital world, you will have to live with passwords. And you should try to do a better job of keeping track of them.

So, here is my New Year’s gift to you: Get a password manager. A password manager is a program that securely stores all your passwords in one place. It can often store secure notes, credit cards and other digital logins, but for most people just storing passwords is the real life-saver. Here are two of my favorites:

1 Password

1Password is my password manager of choice. It lives on my laptop, has plugins for all my web browsers, and offers a companion app for my smartphone which syncs with my iPhone and iPad via Dropbox, so I always have ALL passwords I need when I need them. The password file is encrypted and can store secure notes, credit card numbers, and application serial numbers, in addition to the all important passwords for your online life. Getting into this system is not cheap, roughly $60 if you get the desktop and mobile versions, but it’s worth every penny. It is available for Windows, Mac, iOS devices and Android.

Last Pass

For a cheap alternative, there is Last Pass. Last Pass stores all your information on their own secure servers and can be accessed from any browser with a secure password. While I personally don’t use it because I am a control freak and like to be able to access my data from my own local source, I have often recommended this system for people who need something simple. It is a free service, but for only $12/year, you can also have access to your passwords through many known mobile devices. (iOS, Android, Blackberry)

Ultimately, if you glean only one bit of advice from this post, it should be to take precautions and create a unique password (ideally a pass phrase) that is never used for anything else -just your password manager- lest some n’er-do-well guesses it. Take the advice of the NY Times or maybe you trust Wired.com, but either way, take a minute to assess your interconnected digital life and ask yourself if you are guarding the passwords to that domain with the same vigilance you would use to guard naked pictures of yourself. Think about that.

This month, we’re serving up bite-sized advice from experts in different fields to help us all make life a little brighter, more creative and more efficient for 2013. Think of this month as a chance to connect with yourself on a deeper level, get closer to what makes you happy, and take control of the balance in ‘work-life balance’ for yourself this year.