Seeing hidden passwords in a web browser is easy

Print
Email
|

by K. Komando, USA TODAY & Doug Delony

khou.com

Posted on May 23, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Updated Monday, May 26 at 10:48 AM

Passwords are a royal pain in our digital lives. If you create one that's simple, it isn't safe. If you create one that's safe, you'll never remember it.

On top of that, you really need to have a unique password for every account and Web site in case a hacker gets hold of one of them. With regular data breaches of millions of usernames and passwords happening at major companies like Target and Michaels, it's a very real worry.

That's why it's such a relief your Web browser stores passwords for you. You can create the hardest passwords around and not have to remember any of them. Even better, your browser will fill in passwords automatically for you.

Unfortunately, there is a catch that no one likes to talk about. If I got on your computer right now, I bet I could see every one of your super-secret hard-to-guess passwords in no time flat.

Don't believe me? I've listed how to do it for each popular browser. Try it for yourself and prepare to be shocked.

FIREFOX

In Firefox, click the icon on the right with the three horizontal lines and choose Options. Go the Security tab and click the Saved Passwords button.

You'll see a list of website addresses and usernames. Click the Show Passwords button to see your passwords. Imagine if a snoop got hold of this list.

You can make it harder on any snoopers by going back to the Security tab and turning on "Use a master password." This requires you to enter the master password before seeing your other passwords or logging in to any site. Fortunately, it's the same password each time so you only have to remember one.

CHROME

In Chrome, click the icon on the right with the three horizontal lines and choose Settings. In the left-hand column choose Settings and then click the "Show advanced settings" link at the bottom of the screen.

Scroll down to "Passwords and forms" and click the "Manage saved passwords" link. Choose an account and next to the obscured password click the "Show" button. Voila.

Now, because of an outcry on this subject last year, Chrome does require you to enter your Windows account password to see the actual saved password. If you don't have an account password set for Windows, however, snoops can just waltz in. That's just one good reason to have an account password.

INTERNET EXPLORER

Surprisingly, Internet Explorer is the browser that's strongest against this kind of casual snooping. It's also the weakest if the snoop knows what they're doing.

Confused? Well, on the "strong" side, IE doesn't have a way to see your saved passwords in the browser itself.

However, on the "bad" side, a good snoop will know to download and run the free program IE PassView to get the full list. And there's no setting in IE that can stop it.

You can minimize the risk by running Windows in Standard mode instead of Administrator mode. This prevents people from installing programs without your Windows password.

SAFARI

For Safari, go to Safari>>Preferences>>Auto-fill. Click the Edit button to view the saved passwords.

Unfortunately, aside from keeping people out of your computer entirely, there is no way to stop a snoop once they're in Safari itself. Again, you need to set a password for your computer and have it lock automatically to keep people off of it when you aren't around.

OTHER SOLUTIONS

The best solution is a hard password that you can remember. Yes, you can do this. I have passwords more complicated than Calculus formulas.

Another solution is to turn off password saving for every browser — just follow the steps above for seeing passwords and you'll find the option — and use a third-party password manager like KeePass instead. Password managers work the same for every browser, you only need to remember one master password, and you can easily back up your passwords so you don't lose them.

For basic security, you should also take steps to keep people out of your account. Set up a guest account for visitors to use, put a password on your main account and be sure to lock your computer when you step away (the shortcut is Windows Key + L in Windows).

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, newsletters and more, visitwww.komando.com. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com.

Print
Email
|