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1Password for Mac OS X: One program to store them all

Vincent Danen strongly recommends a password-storage utility for use with Mac OS X. 1Password stores passwords and other secure info, works across browsers, and syncs to multiple systems.

Vincent Danen strongly recommends a password-storage utility for use with Mac OS X. 1Password stores passwords and other secure info, works across browsers, and syncs to multiple systems.

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With various social networks, Web sites, and other data access that require the use of passwords, using strong passwords is important. Equally important is making sure that passwords for different things are, indeed, all different -- this prevents someone from obtaining the password to one site or service and being able to access other sites and services because the same password has been used in more than one place.

Of course, the trick then becomes remembering the various passwords. Looking at my own conglomerate of passwords, I have 245 sites (just Web sites!) for which I have a password. Remembering all of these passwords, if they are all different, is simply not realistic or feasible. As a result, too often the same password is re-used which is a serious security problem.

Portable plugin stores passwords between browsers

A number of password storage solutions exist, but very few have the ease of use that 1Password offers. 1Password is perhaps one of my favourite, and most important, applications for OS X. 1Password stores passwords in a database, encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption, which keeps it safe from prying eyes. It provides plugins for all of the popular browsers: Safari, Firefox, Camino, and many others.

These plugins make it easy to auto-fill passwords for sites with a simple keystroke combination; if the keychain is locked, you will be prompted for the master password. This means that you can access hundreds of passwords with a single master password, which essentially means you only have one password to remember. And there is no longer the worry of switching browsers; passwords are "portable" between browsers using 1Password. And if the 1Password plugin detects you are logging in on a site it does not have a password stored for already, it will offer to save it for you.

Multiple password types, secure text snippets, credit card info

But the features of 1Password don't stop there. 1Password can also store other password types that can be accessed by opening the 1Password application. These include system login passwords, SSH passwords, MySQL passwords, and much more.

1Password includes templates for various password types; this means that certain fields exist to be populated depending on the type of password you are adding. For instance, adding a password type of "UNIX Server" allows you to store not just the password, but also a URL, username, admin console information, support URL, and a support phone number. 1Password also stores file attachments, so you could effectively embed a text file, PDF, or graphic with your account entry. It also allows you to add free-form notes to these accounts.

1Password also supports storing secure notes: text snippets that contain any information you want that requires encrypted protection. It can also store credit card information for easy retrieval, banking information, and more. Finally, it also can manage software license keys with a variety of fields to store as much information about the software purchase as you might want to retain.

Organize passwords and generate new ones

With folders and smart folders, you can organize your passwords however you want. Using tags with passwords and software license information makes it even easier to sort your information. And 1Password can also generate strong passwords for you, based on whatever criteria you like: number of digits, length, number of symbols, and so on. This means you can make completely incomprehensible passwords for new accounts, and use 1Password to remember them for you.

Click to enlarge.

Finally, 1Password is DropBox-aware, which means you can use an application like DropBox to store the 1Password keychain database file and have it synchronized to multiple systems to use, meaning the same passwords defined on the desktop are also available on the laptop. Going a step further, 1Password also has an iPhone app which means you can take your passwords with you wherever you go; this app also supports copy-and-paste, which makes it great to use with the iPhone browser.

1Password is stable and rock-solid. It is most definitely in my own personal top five OS X "must have" applications. Other password storage solutions exist, but none offer the ease of use and behind-the-scenes access that 1Password does. If you aren't using 1Password and you own a Mac, you owe it to yourself to check it out. I cannot recommend it highly enough. (1Password is free to try; $39.95US to purchase).

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About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

2 comments
dan
dan

1 Password to rule them all ... except on Blackberry. Or any smartphone except iPhone/iPad. (Not being nasty... I _really_ love 1Password; it's probably in my top 3 favorite apps that I've ever used, but I use a Blackberry and really wish there was some way, no matter how rudimentary, of getting the username/password data onto it.

jamurdie
jamurdie

I'm an occasional Mac OS X user (I mainly use Linux), but I do know of the 'Keychain Access' utility (which I've only used a little) that's 'in the box'. You write approvingly of 1Password (which I've not used), but how is it better than 'Keychain Access'?