As a foster carer you open your home to a range of people from young people of a range of ages in foster care, to social workers and other professionals. This means that you must be even more sure that your computer is secure, and that your personal information is protected. After all, you may access everything from your bank account to your online shopping through your computer and this means password after password having to be stored in your computer or remembered.
Why use a password manager?
Remembering lots of different passwords can be difficult, but reusing the same password for many, or all, of your accounts is a big security risk.
Another potential risk can be physical snooping of your computer and/or web browser. If you choose to save login information when asked by the browser itself then that information is saved on your computer and can be accessed by anyone using your computer.
If somebody is at your computer and it is not locked and they are able to access your web browser, rather than be kept out at the user login screen then, assuming they have a reasonable level of computer knowledge, your data will not be difficult to access.
Your computer, by virtue of being a computer and potentially having personal information on it, can provide a playground for people with more sinister motives – and so if you use the same password for your email account as you do for hobby-based chat forums, for example, where their security systems might be weaker, then you're essentially providing an alternative, and easier, way for your data to be intercepted.
What is a password manager?
Password managers are programmes you can download for your computer which help to protect you from having your information used and a password manager can provide meaningful defences against both of the aforementioned risks.
Safer than a post-it!
Firstly, installing a password manager extension on your browser should mean that your data is not stored locally, but is in fact stored and protected by the provider of the password manager. It's in their best interest to do this well, so if you choose a reputable organisation then it is safe to assume that your data is in good hands.
Your own password vault
Secondly, and most importantly, password managers can take over the task of remembering all your different passwords. This is their primary function. You can set different passwords for all of your online accounts, and your password manager should ask you (after you log in to a website for the first time or after you change the password, if it already has some information for that website saved for you) if you want to save this combination of username and password for the current website. Usually, your password 'vault' can also be accessed via the provider's own website, which gives you another way to check your details if you're not using your usual web browser.
Password suggestions - a bit too simple
Some password managers also offer to generate passwords for you when they see a password field on a registration or password-changing page. I would, however, recommend against using this function. Most password generators provide a random string of letters, numbers and special characters of varying length. While this may look secure to you and me, it is not always the most effective. Sure, it would be hard for a human to guess, but humans are rarely the ones doing the work when it comes to figuring out a password.
More often than not, a computer string will be trying combinations of characters, much faster than you or I could and for much longer. A short random string of garbled characters might look intimidating, but what really matters is length. Length, and nonsensical phrases can be key to real protection.
Choosing a few real words that don't make sense both defies any logic or library of phrases that a computer script might have access to, and makes it easier for you to remember for yourself.
Almost counterintuitively, bH#4q06@!gLm is not as secure as thefiremanfloatsaway…
My preferred tool is called LastPass, and I can promise you that the initial slog of setting it up is well worth it for the peace of mind it provides. Not only will you enhance your security online, but it will make creating and remembering account details much easier for you.
Try it yourself
Even as a foster carer you’re entitled to some privacy, and making sure your passwords are properly protected can give you that. It is easy to mislay slips of paper with passwords on, and if anything ever did go wrong, then it’s easy for the blame to laid at someone’s door. Take the sensible precautions that can lead to happy and safe internet usage for everyone in your household.