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Password managers

A look at some of the benefits and detriments of password managers.

Given the number of accounts we are all managing, it's nearly impossible to keep track of which user name goes with which password for logon and application access. Add in all of the Web sites we are required to access for information or purchases and the number of logons you need to remember has multiplied exponentially. The problem has given rise to a class of applications or utilities called password managers.

Symantec's Norton Password Manager which is part of the SystemWorks 2004 package is one example of this type of utility. You create a profile which requires a logon, and then when Password Manager encounters a page you have logged onto before in your browser it fills in the information for you. You can set up Password Manager to automatically fill in information such as addresses and credit cards, and to launch automatically when you are logged onto your system. This type of application shows up in many places such as Google's toolbar with its AutoFill function.

Three places to look for utilities of this type are:

The question, from a network management perspective, is should you encourage this kind of application or even invest in an enterprise solution. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantages are that sensitive information is stored in an encrypted format, so it is protected while still stored and available. These utilities would save you a certain amount of support time. The disadvantage is that should anyone gain access to a computer that is logged in that information can be accessed. You have to weigh the risks of whether electronic storage is safer than the information being stored someplace else such as a database, contact manager, or even on paper.

There are several white papers on this topic that you might want to take a look at. Citrix MetaFrame's Password Manger, NetIQ's VigilEnt product, and Critical Path. These white papers make the case for the return on investment you can receive from this type of product as well as present case studies showing how their products were used in the enterprise.

Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

This was last published in April 2004

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