The enormity of passwords one has to maintain is inversely proportional to the excitement level in creating new accounts that require them. Either that or:
- Use a base passphrase and tailor it according to the site being logged into.
- Simply reuse the same password – a practice highly discouraged and should be stopped.
- Use a password manager to generate and maintain strong passwords.
There is a compelling case to use the third option: It removes the major burden of doing the first two options and in their place, just a single password to maintain. As to what comprises a good password manager, will be left to one’s preference. Having said that, what I consider relevant features are the following:
- Has cross-platform support: Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.
- Does not require installation. Therefore, along with the password database, can be carried around in a USB flash drive and can run in non-admin mode.
- Strong database encryption.
- Preferably an open-source application.
These four points are covered by KeePass (Windows) in combination with its fork KeePassX (Linux and Mac OS X). I am using both to at least demonstrate the point regarding cross-platform as KeePassX is a fork. The database compatibility though between the two applications is with KeePass 1.xx and KeePass 0.4.x, therefore I stick with those releases.
Installing on Windows
KeePass has a different installer for Portable Mode and it came with a zip file. All it needed was to unzip it to a directory on the USB flash drive.
Installing on Linux
KeePassX does not have a compiled binary for Fedora so it has to be built from source. I used my just-recently configured Fedora 14 as the build box. Fig. 1 shows the mounted USB flash drive where it would eventually be installed.
There were very a few things that need resolving along the way as the Linux box is practically devoid of relevant development tool-chain. The following are the items that were encountered during the build process:
INSTALLreadme file requires
qmake-qt4 PREFIXis an option to install directly to a preferred directory. For this I used
qmake-qt4 PREFIX=/media/<usb_flash_drive>as seen on Fig. 1.
- The build requires
- During the build process, an X header file missing error occurred. Electing not on precision installation for X development, I just did
sudo yum groupinstall "X Software Development". That should install everything X but the kitchen sink.
make install afterwards. This installs the binary on the directory specified by
Installing on Mac OS X
Installing on Mac is a drag-n-drop operation. Fig. 2 shows the installation from the
KeePassX-0.4.3.dmg installer to the USB flash drive, whose volume is mounted as
NO NAME. Note that the volume already shows three installations: a Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.
The User Interface
Fig. 3 shows the built KeePassX binary on Linux.
Fig. 4 shows Mac OS X KeePassX:
Fig. 5 shows Windows KeePass:
The password generator utility is itself a nice utility which can be accessed from the menu directly. This is handy when generating a quick password without intending to save it to the database. Fig. 6 shows the password generator utility.
The Final (Pass)word
I use three kinds of platforms on a daily basis: Linux, Mac OS, and Windows, and I use all of them to access different sites. Having KeePass/KeePassX (on my USB flash drive) eliminated the need for mental gymnastics remembering my passwords for each site. I only have to remember the one password to open my KeePass/KeePassX key database. I have to add though that before transitioning to KeePass, it took me a while to memorise the single password I planned to use on it. I only committed to using KeePass when I was absolutely sure I was able to remember the password to it. After being comfortable with the password, I changed all relevant login passwords generated from KeePass and never looked back ever since.