Use KeePass to Safely Store Your Passwords

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It’s of no use to create passwords that will make your data impenetrable without having an equally safe way of password storage. Saving your strong random passwords in a simple text file on your Windows Desktop would defeat the whole purpose of having those passwords. Fortunately, there are several ways to store your precious passwords safely. The one I like most is called KeePass.

Storage Options

First of all, you may choose to store your passwords on your home computer, in your laptop or in the cloud, depending on your specific circumstances. If you work from home, it is probably most useful to have your passwords at home with you. If you travel a lot and your portable computer might get stolen, a cloud solution is safer.

Then there is the question of commercial vs. free or even open source software. I prefer open source simply because I have trust issues regarding large corporations. They tend to include back doors into their programs which may easily become vulnerable to outside threats — be those spy agencies or freelance hackers.

Obviously, open source programs may become vulnerable, too. The difference, however, is that once a vulnerability is discovered, there is a tendency to quickly patch it up because there’s no upside to ignoring the problem. The same cannot be said about all commercial products.

KeePass Password Safe

The storage option that I like to use is called KeePass Password Safe — link. It has an intuitive interface, is easy to use and relies on a very strong encryption method. KeePass creates a small database file guarding your passwords which is encrypted using the SHA-256 algorithm. If you keep your computer clean of malware and you don’t allow any bad guys access to your computer, then KeePass will store your passwords safely.

Installation Procedure

  1. Download the most current version of KeePass.
  2. Scan the downloaded file with your antivirus program.
  3. Double-click the setup file to launch the installation procedure.
  4. Click Run in the Open File – Security Warning window.
  5. Click Yes in Windows’ User Account Control to allow the program to make changes to the computer.
  6. Select English as your setup language and click OK.
  7. Click Next on KeePass’ Welcome Screen to continue with the installation procedure.
  8. Click I accept the agreement on the License Agreement screen, then click Next.
  9. Click Next to confirm the folder where KeePass will be installed. Don’t change the location.
  10. Click Next to confirm which KeePass components will be installed. Again, don’t change anything.
  11. Click Create a Quick Launch icon, then click Next in the Select Additional Tasks window. This way, after the installation completes, you will have a KeePass icon in your taskbar.
  12. Click Install in the setup review window to start the installation process itself.
  13. After the installation is complete, click Finish.
  14. Click Enable in the Enable automatic update check? window.
keepass setup welcome screen

KeePass setup welcome screen

Create Master Key

After the installation, you can start working on your new database of passwords. First, select File > New to create, name and save your new database file.

Then you need to create your master key. This will be the key used to encrypt the database file holding all your passwords. So it is a password in itself. You have to enter the master key every time you launch KeePass, so that you can access all your other passwords. That’s why you have to make sure that you remember your master key.

keepass create master key

Create master key

Stick to the recommendations outlined in my previous post. Make the key rather long (20-characters or more) and learn it by heart. Don’t write it down anywhere.

Click OK twice and you are ready to store your passwords in a safe storage vault.

Create Groups and Entries

KeePass comes with various pre-determined password groups, such as Windows, Internet, or Homebanking. You can keep, edit, or delete them altogether. However, if you have lots of passwords, it is useful to have them sorted out into categories.

keepass create new entry

Create new entry

To create a new group, select Edit > Add Group. To create a new entry in a group, click on that group in the left pane, then select Edit > Add Entry….

Generate Random Passwords

One of the excellent features of KeePass is that it has a built-in random password generator. It can generate you one password or a list of passwords based on the criteria you define: the length of the password(s), whether they should contain upper-case or lower-case letters, digits, special characters, spaces, brackets, etc.

You can also define the characters that should be used to generate your passwords. More advanced users can even upload their custom algorithms to be used to generate their passwords.

keepass-password-generator

KeePass password generator

Advanced Options

KeePass has many other advanced options, too. Just to mention one that is very convenient — KeePass can be fully integrated into all major browsers via plugins. So when you click on the URL included with your password entry, KeePass will fill out the form input fields with your username and password. This makes logging into your online accounts both safe and seamless.

Portability

KeePass has a portable version available, too. You can simply unpack it onto your USB stick without any installation. It doesn’t store any data outside the folder where it is unpacked.

The database file containing your passwords is also portable. You can take it with yourself on a USB stick or you can upload and access it in the cloud on any one of your computers that has KeePass installed on them.

Wealth of Resources

KeePass has a lot of other useful functionalities but I will not go into great detail about them in this post. Clicking around within the program reveals many of them. Others are accessible in the Plugins section of KeePass’ website.

There are also lots of educational materials available at the KeePass help center, including detailed explanations and links regarding cryptography. It is worthwhile to search the Forums, too, in case you have a specific question about KeePass in mind.

Final Thoughts

Of course, KeePass is not the only safe storage tool for your passwords in the world. Which is your favorite password safe? Let me know in the comments below.

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