How to Save Passwords Securely: A Guide

Diana Ipacs

April 5, 2023

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Explore your options to save passwords securely, best practices for managing your passwords, and some common password myths and misconceptions.


From the 1990s' simplistic password approaches, the digital world has seen a massive shift in password security awareness. High-profile breaches in the 2010s underlined the vulnerabilities, leading to the rise of two-factor authentication and passphrases. As cyber threats evolved, the 2020s ushered in biometrics and passwordless authentications. With every decade, users have grown more cautious and proactive about their online security, moving from naive simplicity to informed caution.

When was the last time you took a moment to reflect on how you save passwords? Worry not: in this article, we're going to guide you through the essentials of how to save passwords securely. Let's get started!

Save passwords securely

How to Save Passwords Securely: Best way to save passwords

Now that we've established the importance of creating strong, unique passwords, let's examine the best ways to save passwords securely. Where to save passwords? With multiple options available, you should choose a method that aligns with your needs and preferences:

Password Managers

One of the most popular and secure ways to save passwords is by using a password manager. A password manager is a tool that lets you securely store passwords and all your login credentials in an encrypted vault. By using a password manager, you can save passwords without the risk of unauthorized access, and only need to remember a single master password that grants you access to all your other saved passwords.

The benefits of using such a tool to save passwords are numerous. They can generate strong, unique passwords for you, making it easier to maintain good password hygiene. They also save passwords and automatically fill in login forms on websites and apps, enhancing your online experience by simplifying the login process. Examples of reputable password managers include LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password.

Other Options – With Caution!

Encrypted Files or Documents

While encrypted files provide a more secure method than plain text (which should always be avoided), they are not without their risks. When done correctly, with strong encryption and a strong password, they can be a relatively safe method. However, using dedicated password managers could offer a more comprehensive and user-friendly solution for many individuals.

In short, encryption is a process that scrambles data, making it unreadable without the correct decryption key. By storing your passwords in an encrypted file, you add a layer of security that shields your sensitive information from unauthorized access.

To save passwords using this method, you might use software like Microsoft Word or Excel to create a document containing your login credentials, and then apply password protection and encryption to the file. That being said: software, including Word or Excel, may have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. It's essential to keep all software updated to the latest versions, which often contain security patches.

Alternatively, specialized encryption tools like VeraCrypt can be used to create encrypted containers to save passwords and other sensitive data. Remember to create a strong, unique password for the encrypted file itself. The encryption is only as strong as the password protecting the file. If a weak password is chosen for the encrypted file, it can be a point of vulnerability.

Physical Storage Methods

For some users, saving passwords using physical storage methods, such as writing them down on paper or in a notebook, might be a preferred option. While this method may seem outdated, it can be a viable way to save passwords, provided you take proper precautions. While there are obvious cons to this method, physically written passwords are not susceptible to online hacking attempts, malware, or phishing.

When opting for physical storage, it's essential to keep the written passwords in a secure location, such as a locked drawer or safe. You should also avoid labeling the document as "passwords" or making it easily identifiable to potential intruders.

Despite its simplicity, physical storage is not immune to risks. For example, it can be vulnerable to theft, fire, or other damage. Moreover, it lacks the convenience of digital methods, such as auto-filling and password generation.

While physical storage might be suitable for those who are less tech-savvy or have limited exposure to potential physical threats, digital solutions like password managers or encrypted files generally provide more security, convenience, and features.

Best Practices for Maintaining and Managing Passwords

Once you've chosen a secure method to save passwords, it's crucial to adopt best practices for maintaining and managing them effectively.

Update Saved Passwords When Needed

While it might be tempting to set a password and forget about it, updating your saved passwords periodically is a crucial aspect of password management. Regularly changing passwords reduces the risk of unauthorized access due to password leaks, breaches, or brute force attacks.

Current guidelines regarding password updates have shifted focus from routinely changing passwords (every 30-90 days) to updating them based on specific risk factors or events. This change in approach stems from the recognition that frequent, arbitrary password changes can lead to user fatigue, potentially resulting in weaker passwords or password reuse.

Instead of regular intervals, it's recommended to change passwords when there's a reason to believe that an account might be at risk. This could be due to a data breach at a service provider, a lost or stolen device, or any suspicious activity on your account.

For accounts that store sensitive information or have elevated access privileges, such as email, financial, or administrative accounts, it's a good idea to update passwords more frequently or whenever there is an increased risk of unauthorized access.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) Alongside Saved Passwords

Even when you save passwords securely, it's essential to add an extra layer of security by enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible. MFA requires users to provide two or more forms of identification to access an account. This can include something you know (a password), something you have (a physical token or mobile device), or something you are (biometric data, such as a fingerprint).

MFA has become increasingly popular and accessible, with many online services now offering this feature. By using MFA in conjunction with securely saved passwords, you significantly reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access to your accounts.

Maintain a Secure Digital Environment

To ensure that your saved passwords remain effective, it's vital to maintain a secure digital environment. This includes keeping your devices, software, and operating systems up-to-date with the latest security patches, using reputable antivirus programs, and being vigilant against phishing attacks and other online threats.

Monitor for Compromised Passwords

Regularly check if your passwords have been exposed in data breaches using services like "Have I Been Pwned?". If a password is found in a breach, it's crucial to update it immediately.

Prioritize High-Risk Accounts

For accounts that store sensitive information or have elevated access privileges, such as email, financial, or administrative accounts, it's a good idea to update passwords more frequently or whenever there is an increased risk of unauthorized access.

Adopting these best practices for maintaining and managing saved passwords allows you to stay ahead of emerging cybersecurity challenges. By regularly updating saved passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, and maintaining a secure digital environment, you can bolster your defense against potential cyberattacks and safeguard your digital life.

Creating Strong, Unique Passwords

The foundation of password security lies in crafting strong, unique passwords for every online account.

While crafting passwords yourself can offer a sense of control and independence, using a password manager to generate and manage complex passwords often provides a more secure and convenient solution, especially as the number of online accounts most people have continues to grow.

If you still want to create a password yourself, aim for a minimum of 12 characters in length, combining uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. In addition to that, avoid using easily guessable information, such as your name, birthdate, or common words. Consider using phrases or mnemonics to create memorable yet complex passwords. By adopting these practices, you can make it considerably more difficult for attackers to breach your accounts.

The Importance of Unique and Complex Passwords

Why is it essential to create passwords that are both complex and distinctive?

A robust password is the cornerstone of your defense against cybercriminals aiming to gain unauthorized access to your personal and financial information. When you use unique and complex passwords, you significantly raise the bar for attackers trying to crack your accounts through brute force, dictionary attacks, or other hacking techniques.

Employing a different password for each account ensures that even if one password is compromised, your other accounts remain secure. By doing so, you minimize the risk of a single point of failure leading to a domino effect in your online security.

Password Reuse: Why It Is a Bad Idea

It's not enough to save passwords securely. Despite the well-documented risks associated with password reuse, a considerable number of people continue to use the same password across multiple accounts. According to a 2020 survey by Google, 65% of respondents reported using the same password for multiple accounts. This practice leaves users vulnerable to credential stuffing, a type of cyberattack where hackers use stolen login information from one account to access others with the same credentials. This means that even if just one account is breached, attackers could potentially gain access to a wide range of your online accounts.

Save passwords securely

Common Password Myths and Misconceptions

"Saving Passwords in a Web Browser = Always Secure"

While browsers offer the convenience of storing and autofilling passwords, this method may not provide the most robust security. Browser-based password storage can be vulnerable to malware or unauthorized access, especially on shared devices. To store passwords safely, consider using a dedicated password manager for enhanced security.

"Complexity is More Important Than Length"

Although complexity does play a role in password strength, length is actually more critical. A long password made up of simple words or phrases is often harder to crack than a short, complex password. Aim for a combination of length and complexity for optimal password security.

The primary reason why length is more critical than complexity for password strength is the increased number of possible combinations that an attacker would have to test in a brute-force attack. Brute-force attacks involve systematically trying every possible combination of characters until the correct password is found. With each additional character in a password, the number of potential combinations grows exponentially. 

"Security Questions = Adequate Account Protection"

Security questions can be a weak point in account security, as the answers are often easy to guess or discover through research. Relying on security questions alone can leave your account vulnerable. Instead, prioritize strong, unique passwords and consider using additional security measures like 2FA.

"Uppercase and Lowercase Letters + Numbers + Symbols = Strong Password"

Another misconception is that using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols always results in a strong password. While this can help, the most critical factor in password strength is actually length. A longer password made of simple words can be more secure than a short, complex one.

"Replacing Letters With Similar-Looking Symbols = Strong Password"

Many people think that simply replacing letters with numbers or symbols (e.g., "p@ssw0rd") makes a password more secure. However, hackers are aware of these patterns, and password-cracking tools can easily identify such substitutions. To create a stronger password, focus on length and unpredictability.

If you choose a secure method to save passwords, adopt the above best practices for password management, and are aware of the above misconceptions, you can build a stronger foundation for your personal cyber safety.

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