You should consider keeping a copy of your important login information saved somewhere other than your primary computer.
Why? Because if your computer drive fails, or your computer is stolen, or it is severely damaged, you could find yourself locked out of important accounts. (Not all web-based services provide lost password service!)
Damage can occur a variety of ways, including, but not limited to: fire, flood, earthquake, landslide, building damage, vandalism, and (my favorite) food and coins. The food category includes spilling drinks on your computer. The coins category comes from personal experience, when one of our children thought the computer must be a big piggy bank, and the disk drive slots seemed to be the perfect place to put loose change.
In other words, you don’t know what will happen to your computer, or the data stored on it.
Mac OS X users, here’s how to create mountable, encrypted virtual drives, or even burn password protected CDs:
- Open Disk Utility in the Applications/Utilties folder.
- Click “New Image”.
- In the “Encryption” pull-down menu, select AES-128.
- If you want to make a CD, make sure the size is small enough to fit on a CD, typically 610MB.
- Enter the name and location of the image file and click Create to finish.
- You will be asked to enter a password for the new image. Pick a good one.
Disk Utility will create a .dmg file in the location you specified and it will automatically be mounted and appear as a new drive with the size you specified earlier. You can drag files to this drive and they will be added to the encrypted image. Drag the .dmg file to a blank CD to create an encrypted backup on removable disk.
One approach is to keep your important login information stored somewhere else, or with someone you trust. We suggest encrypting that information. If you are a Windows or Linux user, take a look at TrueCrypt, an open-source application with a great reputation for solid performance.
If you are a Mac user, don’t despair: the TrueCrypt folks expect to release a Mac version very soon! Also, modern versions of OS X have a built-in encryption utility. Easy directions are available at Hackszine.com (see sidebar).
Another way to safely store this sensitive information somewhere else is to e-mail it to yourself, or mail it to a trusted associate and ask him/her to save it for you. Again, encrypt the information first.
Saving your account details for financial services, suppliers, mail services, and servers away from where you usually do your computing is a simple, effective way to insure against accidental loss.
As you begin to experiment with encryption, you’ll probably think of many more documents you should protect and save.
Because the master password to unlock your encrypted documents is so important, you will probably want to write it down and store it in a safe place. It’s a good idea to not store it with your encrypted data.
I carry with me a hint that helps remind me of my master password. It is sufficiently obscure to not lead someone to figuring out my password, but gives me just enough of a mental jolt to remember the password.
Be prepared by putting your logins into escrow.