In today’s digital world, more and more families’ finances are being managed online. Everything from paying bills, managing utilities, and scheduling medical appointments may be done online these days. When it comes time to take a more active role in helping an aging family member, much of that help can also be done online. However, all of these activities require entering passwords and other login credentials.
The Password Dilemma
Passwords are powerful- and if they get into the wrong hands, they can cause a lot of harm. As more and more passwords pile up in our lives, it can also be a real problem to keep track of them. If you will be using your loved one’s password to access their various online accounts, it’s important to figure out the best way to store passwords safely and securely, while still allowing for both you and your loved one to access them.
In many families there may be more than one of you helping out, so you may need to share online account credentials with multiple people in multiple locations. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but as passwords are becoming more complex and multi-factor authentication is becoming more common, sharing passwords securely has become much more difficult.
Digital solutions for a digital problem
One thing that security experts agree on is that passwords should never be written down. Why? Because they can be easily stolen. In our case, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, since a written list is only good until the password changes, which some websites force you to do regularly.
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One solution is to enter all your loved one’s account credentials on a shared Google spreadsheet. This is somewhat secure, since Google accounts require you to set up a password to log in. It’s also flexible in that anytime someone has to change a password, you can go into the spreadsheet and change it there. You can also include ancillary information such as the answers to security questions, PIN numbers, and notes about each account.
Storing account credentials on a shared Google sheet is a big improvement over writing them down on paper. However, even that became somewhat unwieldy and still wasn’t very secure. It also suffered from the main problem people have in creating their own passwords: they all tend to be the same (so you can remember them) or a variation of a theme (again, easy to remember). This is a terrible problem because once somebody knows one of your passwords, they will likely know them all.
What about password managers?
Personally, I’ve been using a password manager for several years. It allows me to access my passwords on my computer or phone and creates complicated passwords that I don’t ever need to remember – because they’re in my password vault. I only have to remember one single password. All the rest are stored safely and encrypted. It’s a very secure system for storing passwords, but what about sharing them?
Most password managers allow you to create password sets or vaults for different family members. For example, my passwords are separate from my wife’s and my kids, and then we have a set of shared family passwords. Using this, I was able to create a vault for my mother’s passwords and invite my brother to join my ‘family’ so that he could also see her passwords. Admittedly, it works best with immediate family, but you can use password managers like this that are designed for companies and teams across family groups as well.
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Other options for sharing
There are other ways to share passwords securely. Cloud storage services like Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and the like allow sharing of documents (like spreadsheets) and have good control over who can access your documents as well. Online project management tools, again designed for businesses, are another option.
One thing you should never do is share passwords via text messages or email. Both are too insecure and barely different than writing it down on a piece of paper. If you ABSOLUTELY must share a password remotely, it’s better to call the person you’re sharing it with, or split it up, sending the user ID by text message, part of the password by email and the rest by phone for example. This way, even if one form is compromised (like your email getting hacked), the perpetrator cannot access the whole password. You could also use a site like onetimesecret.com which creates a secure link that is only available once and then deleted forever.
No system is going to be perfect, but the more secure you can make your password sharing, the more secure your financial and health information will be.
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