A Search Tool for Your Online Passwords

Here’s a interesting twist: A search toolbar that can be configured to use your favorite engine, and securely manages all of your online login details and passwords to boot.

If you’re like most people, you’ve got tons of login names and passwords for various web sites. Security experts constantly admonish us to construct our passwords using difficult to remember strings of numbers and letters, to change them often, and to use different passwords on different sites.

Yeah, sure.

I’ve progressed from keeping my login details on yellow stickies pasted to my computer monitor, but my duration-challenged memory still requires writing down my login details. I’ve tried various schemes to add at least a bit of security to this process, such as using abbreviations or codes that translate into actual logins or passwords, but I invariably end up in a situation where I need to login to a site and I can’t locate any of the details I need to gain access.

I’ve tried password managers in the past, but have always abandoned them, for various reasons—typically because they littered my computer with adware or cookies, or installed some type of spyware on my computer (think Gator). The convenience of having an automated system to store login details wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable with that type of obnoxious behavior.

Recently, I’ve been testing RoboForm, a combination search toolbar and password manager. Well before downloading the program I searched the web for any allegations or complaints about the program, and satisfied myself that it’s free of all types of adware, spyware and other malware.

RoboForm’s search toolbar is basic but adequate. It searches Yahoo by default, but you can configure it to search Google, MSN, Ask Jeeves or about a dozen other sources by simply changing built-in options. You can also add your own search tools to the list.

RoboForm’s real strength lies not with its search toolbar but with the tools it provides to securely store, find and use online logins, passwords and other details. The tool provides a great balance between ease of use and security, allowing you to essentially create and forget passwords that are secure enough that even the most paranoid security wonk would approve of.

The tool automatically recognizes forms on web pages, and will automatically capture saved login information that you’ve stored with your browser. For each site, a “passcard” is created with all necessary login details. Once you’ve created a passcard, you can log into a site simply by selecting it from the “logins” menu on the RoboForm toolbar.

All passcards are protected by a master login that you create when you install the program. You must use this master password to start up RoboForm; you can then use the program until it automatically logs you off, by default 2 hours after your last activity unless you shut the program down manually.

If you want more security, you can edit each passcard and add an additional password, clear the password from RoboForm’s cache and so on.

RoboForm also allows you to create more complex “identities” that contain much more information than a user name and a password. For example, you can create an identity for Amazon or eBay or other online merchant with all of the relevant details for your account, including credit card numbers, address information and so on. Once created, these identities will automatically fill in all information on forms, a handy time-saver.

A very cool and easy to use feature is RoboForm’s password generator, which creates impossible-to-remember strings of numbers and digits that can be saved with passcards or identities. Since you don’t need to remember them (RoboForm does that for you), you can really bump up your level of security by using these auto-generated passwords. You can also follow the recommendations of security experts and change them frequently without worrying about forgetting your current settings.

What about all of that offline information you need to keep at hand, such as ATM passwords, social security numbers and so on? RoboForm lets you create “safenotes” to securely store that type of information.

It’s also easy to back up your RoboForm information, to keep a safety copy or to use it on another computer. In addition to all of your RoboForm information, you can also simultaneously create backups of your internet favorites, address book and Outlook contacts—all of the really useful stuff that’s a pain to replicate from one computer to another.

RoboForm also provides options for portable devices including Palm and PocketPC phones and organizers. There’s an option to store and run your RoboForm data from a USB stick, so you can use the tool even on computers that you’re not authorized to alter or install software on.

About the only downside I’ve found to RoboForm is that it’s yet another toolbar that takes away viewable space in my browser. But it’s easy enough to turn RoboForm on when needed, and turn it off the rest of the time. To do this, select the View > Toolbar menu on both Firefox and IE, simply uncheck the RoboForm Toolbar option. Whenever you come across a page with a login and password, reverse the process to display the toolbar.

RoboForm isn’t for everyone. The user agreement makes it clear that your personal information remains in your control and is not shared, but if you use a computer in a public environment it’s possible that someone else could gain access to your information. RoboForm provides additional layers of security, though you have to enable this yourself.

RoboForm provides a free 30 day trial, with most features fully enabled. After 30 days the program will continue to function, though you’re limited to just ten passcards and two identities. The program costs $29.99, which includes future upgrades. Adding support for USB, Palm or Pocket PC devices costs $9.99 for each.

Works with Internet Explorer, browsers based on IE and browsers based on Gecko (Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape 7); click here for a full list of supported browsers.

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