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Password vault

Keep passwords safe yet accessible with this free password manager.

Here's the thing about passwords: If you can remember them, they're too weak. If you copy them or write them down, you compromise security (plus you'll lose that piece of paper; trust us on this one). Password managers can help you keep your PC secure by making it easy to use strong passwords without committing them to memory or paper. KeePass Password Safe stores passwords in encrypted database files that can only be unlocked by a master password or key file, or both. It's open-source freeware that runs in Windows versions from 98 to 7.

KeePass Password Safe's main interface is a fairly simple, compact dialog with a left-hand list view and a main window displaying Title, User Name, Password, URL, and Notes. We clicked File/New and named and saved a database file in which to store our passwords, which automatically opened the Create Composite Master Key wizard, in which we twice entered our Master password and Key file or provider. Next we were able to configure the settings for our password database on a tabbed properties dialog, including Compression settings, Security levels, and Templates. When we'd finished, our master password showed up in the left-hand panel under General with subheadings of Windows, Network, Internet, eMail, and Homebanking for which we could add and manage Groups of passwords. The next step is to add Entries, which are actual stored passwords, via a tabbed wizard that has many more options than most users will require, such as string fields, file attachments, and even two-channel auto-type obfuscation (look it up). There are several ways to use Entries: you can copy to the Clipboard, drag-and-drop, or open URLs directly from the interface. Saving our database completed the basic setup, though KeePass Password Safe also offers advanced features like TAN entries, command-line options, and plug-ins.

As with any password manager, you'll need to break bad old habits to make it work. Once it's up and running, KeePass Password Safe can help you with that. While it makes it easy to generate strong passwords and save them securely, it's not a set-and-forget tool; it requires some attention, just like your passwords.

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