A traveller’s nightmare. 1990. Bari, Italy. A guy with a knife slits the strap on my “man-purse.” Jumps onto the back of a motorbike. Disappears into a maze of alleys. I’ve just lost my passport, driver’s license, credit cards, money and airline tickets. If it had happened today, I’d also have lost my iPhone.
What to do now? If I’d followed some advisories, I would have had photocopies of my cards and passport “hidden” in a pocket in my suitcase so that I’d have all the contacts to notify the authorities of my identity theft.
But is that a good strategy? Even if suitcases are locked, most of their zippers can be opened with a pen and resealed without any sign of entry. That backup plan is an open back door serving a thief your identity on a platter. Those photocopies could easily be in the hands of a luggage handler or a room maid. [We protect ourselves from a zipper attack as we shared in our PacSafe luggage post.]
So what is our backup now? We purchased an app called 1Password and installed it on each of our computers, our iPhone and iPads. Our 1Password is automatically backed up and synced on Dropbox, so we always have an encrypted copy of our data that we can access from any computer anywhere, such as one at a police station, hospital or hotel. For these emergencies, we only need to remember two passwords: one for 1Password, and one for Dropbox.
What do we store in 1Password specifically for travelling? There are folders for all of our credit card and banking information, with data fields for domestic and international phone numbers to report a theft. It has another folder for passport data, including PDF images. Similar folders store data for our drivers’ licences and medical insurance. In Secure Notes, we added a PDF of our Travel Insurance Policy so we can confirm our coverage in the event of a theft or medical emergency. We also added a PDF of the insurance coverage provided with our credit card. Easy access to that data (Are we covered? Who do we call?) has proven invaluable twice in Spain when making claims for damage to rental cars.
Interestingly, these are all secondary features of 1Password. Its primary purpose is to create and store secure and unique passwords for the sites we visit on the Internet. Too many people use easy-to-guess passwords, or use the same passwords on multiple sites. I for example, as an engineer, might choose beer as a meaningful base word for my passwords. But many sites require at least one capital letter and a number, so my base word might become B33r, reversing the capital “E’s” to “3’s.” Brilliant, eh?
Then, because most sites require your password to be at least six characters long, I might use something like coldB33r. But we all know we shouldn’t use the same password for all sites. So for those requiring better security like banking sites, I might use hotB33r. Because nobody drinks hot beer, I’m sure a hacker wouldn’t break that code, even if he knew my default password 😉 But it gets more complicated when a site says you must change your password for security reasons. Then my password universe starts getting too complicated to remember in my head as I reluctantly change it to coolB33r.
To help me remember, I could use a little notebook by my computer. But that’s even more valuable to a burglar than the old hardware on my desk. And do I take my notebook with me when I travel?
Alternatively, 1Password is “our little notebook.” We only need to remember one password (albeit longer and more sophisticated than hotB33r). It’s even easier on our new iPad where we can use a fingerprint to unlock the app.
1Password creates unique passwords that are a mishmash of characters, numbers and symbols for every site we visit, with automatic links to the sign-in page for each site. For example, I just asked it to generate an example password and here’s what it gave me: qRwc3saKM. A little harder to crack than beer, beer1 or B33r or coolB33r isn’t it? And I don’t have to try to remember it. Currently, we have links to almost 400 sites. It also includes the sign-in detail for all of our email accounts, Wi-Fi servers and licences for software we’ve purchased. In the event of a fire or theft, we have the ability to re-create most of our virtual world.
And in the event my man-purse was stolen again, it would be a BIG problem, as they say in Italy, but not a crisis. I could probably relax and have a beer with 1Password helping me to confirm and protect our identity.
Forget your passwords. 1Password remembers them all for you. Save your passwords and log in to sites with a single click.
1Password is developed by AgileBits Inc., a Canadian company. They recently changed their business model to be a membership/subscription licence. The cost for an individual subscription is US$2.99 per month; US$4.99 for families with up to five members. The family plan allows you to share most passwords and data, and have a personal folder. If you don’t require a personal password folder, two or more family members should be able to share an individual subscription on two computers and multiple mobile devices. The first month is a free trial. An advantage of the membership plan is that rather than having to set up linkages to Dropbox, syncing is now done automatically for you through AgileBits secure server, and you don’t have to remember a second password if stranded overseas.
When folks hear that their data will be stored on some “server” — they get worried. However, AgileBits never has the ability to decrypt the data that you store with them. The information is protected with your Master Password and Secret Key, which is never known to anyone but you. Without those your information is just an encrypted (incomprehensible) blob. In fact 1Password has a US$100,000 bounty for anyone who can obtain and decrypt some bad poetry (in particular, a horrible haiku) stored in a 1Password vault.
This is not necessarily true of other cloud services, even if they are using encryption. With some services the company providing the service may have the keys to decrypt customer information.
Disclosure – Latitude65 hasn’t received any affiliate consideration for endorsing this product that we have used everyday since 2013.