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7 best programs to protect your passwords

It's hard to remember loads of different passwords, but there's an easier way...

Scared by the news that sensitive information from within Twitter was obtained not by hacking code but by some relatively straightforward detective work?

Gaining access to the inner secrets of a firm which really should be super-tech literate appeared to require nothing more than cunning and understanding of human behaviour.

So what should we do? Having a unique, non-memorable, alpha-numeric password (with special characters) for every email account, social network, Wi-Fi login, document share and so on is all well and good, but impossible to hold in your head.

The answer is one of the multitude of sophisticated, encrypted password safes which not only store virtually uncrackable codes, but make your life safer and more convenient by autocompleting forms and defeating keyloggers, too. Here are seven of the best.

1. LastPass, free

The more we use LastPass the more we are impressed with it. It stores all your passwords as an encrypted file on LastPass' servers so they can be accessed from any machine using a browser add-on, web interface or the handy bookmarklets which you can drag to any browser's toolbar.

If that sounds worrying, fear not – they're stored using 256bit AES encryption and LastPass never holds the keys: when you log-in, the encrypted information is downloaded to your hard drive and only unlocked once there.

The default set-up isn't perfect, mind you, and the option to leave your browser logged-in to LastPass seems to defeat the point (as anyone who uses your machine will then be able to log into your sites just by visiting them). But configure it well and you can enjoy the automatic form filling feature as a brilliant way to prevent getting caught out by hardware or software keyloggers.

You get far more for free and in a better package than with many chargable password vaults, and for $1 a month, you can upgrade your account to include token security via an encrypted USB key too.

LastPass is available for almost every platform bar iPhone, but there is a mobile version of the website and it's possible to use the bookmarklets even on mini Safari. The only thing it lacks to be near perfect is third-party certification from one of the big security outfits – you have to take the privacy policy at face value.


2. KeePassX, free

A spin-off of the open source Windows-only KeePass project, KeePassX is a multiplatform vault which is a simple but secure desktop locker for all of your personal information.

If you leave it running in the background, like LastPass it will fill in forms for you so you don't have to keep copy and pasting character strings from its database. It doesn't sync with an online server, but does run off of a USB key so you can carry your logins with you wherever you go.


3. 1Password, $39.95

An encrypted USB key is all well and good, but the phone is the one thing that never leaves our sides. Keeping your passwords encrypted on your iPhone isn't a bad idea at all, and 1Password is just one of many apps which can sync with a desktop version of itself.

It was given a tacit approval by Twitter CEO Evan Williams in a Twitter post on the subject of the email loss, but because it's MacOS only and has no online syncing, won't be practical for the majority of us.