This post is the 7th in an ongoing series about passwords. You may want to check out the other parts by clicking on tag: passwords.
In my last post on passwords, I talked about some really good options for PC users: KeePass and LastPass. The latter also works well on Macs, but in my mind, there is only one choice for Mac users: 1Password.
Most of the brightest Mac users out there, including popular bloggers, podcasters, and other Mac gurus agree that 1Password is not only the best password manager for their Mac, it’s a must-have piece of productivity software that they can’t live without.
Now, there are many, many great reviews of 1Password online. Just Google it, and you’ll see. In this post, I’m going to talk about 1Password from my point of view and focus on the features I use the most.
Here are a few features and benefits of 1Password at a glance…
- Store not only your passwords but also identities, notes, and other secure information
- Excellent web browser integration
- Excellent password generator
- “Go & Fill” option in web browser plugins saves you tons of time
- Great iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apps for accessing passwords on-the-go
- Excellent automatic backup protection
- Convenient syncing through Dropbox lets you get to your passwords anywhere
Web browser integration
To me, browser integration is probably the most important aspect of a modern password manager. Most of the passwords we juggle are for websites. The easier it is to create and fill passwords right in our browser, the more likely we are to utilize the password manager (and consequently increase the security of our online identities).
When you install 1Password, it automatically installs plugins for all the browsers you have installed on your Mac (Safari, Firefox, etc.). Note that you may have to restart your browser to see the plugin appear (first time only).
Once 1Password is installed and your browser plugins are in place, 1Password will prompt you to remember passwords any time you visit a site that asks for a username and password. The easiest way to begin filling 1Password up with your usernames and passwords is to simply visit sites as you normally would.
Once you save your information for a site, 1Password will remember it the next time you visit. And that next time, instead of having to type out everything, all you’ll have to do is 1) click the browser plugin button (the “1P” button), and 1Password will automatically display "Fill Site ABC" at the very top of the menu.
The “fill” feature has benefits beyond convenience. In order for 1Password to know which username/password to fill, it needs to also remember the site address. By simply using 1Password to fill passwords, you’re creating an additional safeguard. If you accidentally visit malicious site that has been made to look like a legitimate site, 1Password simply won’t display the “Fill Site ABC” option because there’s no address match. If this ever happens, flags should go up.
Go forth and fill your way to simplicity
One one of my favorite 1Password features is the “Go & Fill” option in the browser plugins. If I want to go to Bank ABC’s site, I can simply click the 1P button in my browser, select “Go & Fill Login,” and 1Password will take me straight to that site and fill my username and password instantly.
The Go & Fill menu lets you navigate to your passwords using the folders and tags you’ve assigned, or you can use the Search option. In the beginning, I was pretty diligent about organizing passwords with tags. But the more I’ve used 1Password, the more I rely on the search option. You can just starting typing any part of the name of the site you wish to go to, and 1Password will instantly begin showing you matches. In this example, I type “word” and it displays two matches for my WordPress logins:
Now, I can simply tab down, hit enter, or use my mouse to click the one I want. 1Password’s search is really good, and I find it extremely useful and convenient. For me, 1Password has essentially become a bookmark manager for sites that require passwords.
1Password can even handle the virtual keypads that some bank sites are beginning to use. While increasing security by avoiding the keyboard (keystrokes can be captured by key loggers), these virtual keypads can be a nuisance. 1Password makes them a non-issue by filling them for you.
Here’s a nice video of the Go & Fill feature made by Agile Web Solutions:
And don’t worry–1Password requires you to enter your master password before using the browser plugins if you’ve just booted up your Mac or if it’s been unattended for a while. So only you have access to your passwords–not just anyone who has your Mac. You can also lock it up manually anytime you want.
Another important item in the browser plugin menu is the Strong Password Generator. As you can see, there are all kinds of options for creating passwords. It also lets you know how strong the password is.
Anytime you encounter a password field on the web, you can go to the Strong Password Generator to create a password for that field. It will even fill it in for you if you click the Fill button. Most of the time when you first sign up for a site or if you change your password, the site will require you to enter the password twice (to make sure you didn’t make a typo). 1Password will automatically fill both fields for you making this a snap.
As you begin adding existing passwords to 1Password, I highly recommend changing to more complex passwords using the Strong Password Generator. Remember that 1Password will keep up with them for you; it’s not necessary to remember them. Don’t worry–I’ll go over options for getting to your passwords when you’re away from your Mac later.
Exploring the insides of 1Password
Once you’ve got a password or two stored in 1Password, you might want to look inside it. 1Password is really a beautifully designed application. You can click the image below to see a bigger version.
Each account login you store has its own entry inside 1Password. If you ever want to manually copy the password, 1Password allows you to easily do that too.
For each account, you can click Edit to do all sorts of things like changing your password, adding attachments (e.g. files, photos), and even notes. You can also see and edit the various bits of information 1Password has collected for the account shown under “All Fields.”
In the simple example shown, only the username and password fields exist, but 1Password can record a number of other items automatically. If you click in a password field, the * symbols turn into your actual password allowing you to see and also edit it.
In screen shot of the full program above (3 photos up), notice the items in the left sidebar. The top item, Logins, contains all login information you store for websites, but there are 5 more categories of things you can store as well:
- Accounts - Use this to store passwords for items like routers, iTunes, and other items that reside on your computer, not on the web.
- Identities - 1Password lets you store form information like name, address, city, etc. 1Password will fill this information in forms online if you give it permission.
- Secure Notes - Use this to store various notes that you want to keep locked behind a password.
- Software - Use this to store software licenses. If your Mac is ever stolen, or if you need to reinstall software, you’ll have all your software licenses in one easy-to-find location.
- Wallet - 1Password will store credit card and other financial account numbers. It will even fill these for you when you buy items online. Use this if you want the extra convenience of not having to pull out your credit card when shopping online.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how much information you want to store in 1Password. As you add information, I recommend considering the value of storing it in one place versus the unlikely chance that it falls into the wrong hands. As long as your master password is strong, you don’t have much to worry about. But there are some things like social security numbers that I have chosen not to put into 1Password. I made this decision simply because I don’t need a program to keep up with that for me. That’s one number I’ve definitely memorized.
Even in the very unlikely event that someone somehow got into my 1Password file, I can easily begin changing my passwords for all important sites. I can’t change my social security number, however.
But to emphasize again, as I have earlier in this series, putting online passwords in one secure file is far, far safer than maintaining a few simple passwords in your head. If you only decide to use the Logins section of 1Password, it’s well worth it.
1Password on the go
At this point, you may be thinking “1Password sounds great, but I’m worried that I’ll be locked out of my sites if I’m away from my Mac.” There are several great solutions to this problem.
In the screen shots above, you’ll notice a Sync section in the left sidebar. 1Password has great apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. I personally use 1Password on my iPod Touch and iPad. 1Password allows you to easily sync your passwords to these devices right over your wi-fi network at home. It automatically detects when the devices are online and syncs in seconds.
So when I’m away from my Mac, I have all my passwords with me since I usually carry my iPod Touch in my bag. 1Password’s mobile apps probably deserve a full post of their own. They are brilliantly designed and even will fill passwords for you on the device. Everything stays behind your master password, so even if your mobile device gets lost or stolen, your data is safe.
Don’t have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad? There’s still another way to get to your passwords away from home.
1PasswordAnywhere is designed to let you access your 1Password information on any computer with an Internet connection. It sounds like a different program, but it’s not. The file that stores your 1Password information on your Mac is something called a package file. If you have access to this package file on any other computer (even a PC or Linux computer), it will appear as a zip file.
Inside the zip file, you’ll see an html file called 1Password.html. You can simply double click this file, and you’ll be presented with a web page that looks exactly like the main 1Password login screen on your Mac. After entering your master password, you’ll see all of your login information.
So how might you get access on another computer? One method would be to store a copy of your 1Password keychain file on a portable memory device like a USB stick. But the absolute best way is to store your 1Password keychain in Dropbox.
Dropbox truly deserves its own post, and I plan to write one at some point. But in short, Dropbox is a great (and free) way to synchronize files and folders of all kinds across different computers. It’s very easy and useful.
If you store your 1Password keychain in Dropbox, you don’t even have to download it to access it. You can simply log into your Dropbox account online (anywhere you have an Internet connection), and click the 1Password.html file there. It functions just like a normal web page right in your browser.
The Dropbox approach is the one recommended by the makers of 1Password, Agile Web Solutions. They provide a nice tutorial on using Dropbox and 1PasswordAnywhere here.
1Password is great. It makes your life simpler by creating and storing strong, secure passwords for all your sites. The only password you have to remember is your master password. This master password should be very strong, and you need some way to remember it. If you forget your master password, you’ll have no way to get inside 1Password. There are no resets here.
The only possible downside to 1Password that I can think of is the lack of server storage in the cloud like LastPass. However, you can accomplish exactly the same thing by using a free Dropbox account–something I would recommend to anyone.
As I mentioned earlier in this password series, one of the benefits of using a password manager is that all of your passwords are kept in a secure location that family members can access if something happens to you, the primary password “keeper” in your home. I recommend keeping some simple instructions with your master password in a safe place like a locked safe in your home or a safe deposit box at a bank.
1Password costs $39.95. This one-time cost is well worth the security and simplicity it introduces into your digital life.
Like most Mac software, you can download and try 1Password for free for 30 days. Give a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Let me hear your thoughts on 1Password in the comments.