If you’re using a password manager and it’s not the cloud-based LastPass, it’s probably KeePass. KeePass is a completely open-source password manager that stores all your sensitive data locally. However, this means that it isn’t quite as well-integrated as other solutions.
Want LastPass-style browser integration, the ability to synchronize your passwords and have them everywhere, and an app to access your passwords on your phone? You’ll have to string together your own system.
Use KeePass in Your Browser
KeePass doesn’t offer a browser extension, so it won’t pop up and prompt you when you visit a login page. You could copy-paste your login information from KeePass into the appropriate boxes on the web page, or even just use drag-and-drop to move the username and password over, but that isn’t the most convenient solution.
Instead, you may want to try using the integrated auto-type feature. It gets around the lack of browser integration by sending keystrokes to the application. For example, with the default KeePass database, open the KeePass test form page and click inside the User name box. Next, press Ctrl+Alt+A, which is the default auto-type keyboard shortcut. KeePass will look at the window’s title, identify the web page you’re on, then send your user name, the tab character, and then your password to the window as keystrokes, effectively automatically filling in this information.
This should work for many websites, but you may need to tweak the auto-type settings in an account entry’s settings if it doesn’t.
Luckily, third-party browser extensions allow you to directly integrate KeePass into your browser. Use KeeFox for Firefox or chromeIPass for Chrome. Other plugins and third-party applications can be found on KeePass’s plugins and extensions page.
Such a browser extension will integrate KeePass into your browser, providing quick logins and one-click saving of new login information to your KeePass database. Unless you would like to keep KeePass entirely separate from your browser for additional security, the browser integration is a must-have feature.
Sync Your KeePass Data Across Your Computers
Your KeePass passwords live in a single file on your computer, your KeePass database file. As a local application, KeePass doesn’t attempt to automatically synchronize these passwords via the cloud or move them to other computers. It’s your job to back this database up so you don’t lose it. It’s also your job to keep it synchronized between multiple computers, assuming you want access to your database across multiple computers.
The easiest way to sync this file between your computers is by dropping it into a cloud storage folder. Place it in your Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, or whatever other cloud storage service you use. Your cloud storage service will synchronize it between your computers, and you can open the database file directly from the folder in KeePass.
Of course, this means that your passwords are no longer stored only locally on your computer — they’re out there in the cloud in whatever cloud storage service you use. If you do this, ensure you choose a strong master password that will encrypt your passwords and make them difficult to decrypt without your master password.
If you don’t want your passwords residing in the cloud at all, you could simply move the password database around on a USB stick — the USB stick could contain your master copy of the database that you use everywhere you go. Of course, if you did this, you should ensure you have a backup copy of your database somewhere.
With KeePass, synchronizing the database and backing it up are up to you.
Access Your Passwords on Your Phone
There’s a good chance you’ll want to view your KeePass database on your smartphone, but the lack of syncing and no official mobile app means this isn’t quite as easy to set up as it it is with LastPass and similar services.
However, you can still view your KeePass info from your smartphone. You’ll just need to move the KeePass database to your phone and use a third-party mobile app that can access your KeePass database.
First, ensure you have a copy of your KeePass database on your phone. If you’re syncing it with a cloud storage service like Dropbox, you can just open your cloud storage app and download the database to your phone. If you’re not, you can copy your KeePass database file directly to your phone — just connect its USB cable and copy the file over.
Next, choose an app that’s compatible with KeePass databases. Android users can try KeePassDroid, while iPhone users can try MiniKeePass. For alternative apps and apps for other platforms, browse the list of unofficial KeePass ports on the KeePass download page.
Launch the app, open your KeePass database, and enter your encryption key to access, view, and manage it on your smartphone. Remember that you’re in charge of keeping the changes synced between your devices — if you add new entries on your computer, you’ll have to copy the latest database to your smartphone. If you change the database on your phone, you’ll have to copy it back to your computer.
KeePass is a very powerful solution. What it lacks in ease of use compared to a completely integrated solution like LastPass, it makes up for in flexibility and control. If you want to control your password database and store it all locally, KeePass is the password manager you should use.
Image Credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 06/29/13