A good password management application makes your life easier and your identity monumentally more secure, and free application KeePass—the most popular password manager among Lifehacker readers—is the perfect place to start. We’ve already walked you through getting started with KeePass, so let’s take a closer look at how to get the most from your password management with a few of the best KeePass tricks and plug-ins.
What You Already Know
In our first look at KeePass, we showed you how to set one master password to securely rule all of your passwords. As long as you remember your master password, the rest are always at your fingertips. We also highlighted how KeePass can auto-generate strong passwords, one of the major strengths of any password management app worth its salt. (You don’t have to remember the difficult passwords—just your master password.) You can even run KeePass—and most of the plug-ins below—from your thumb drive, so you can securely carry your passwords with you wherever you go.
That’s what we’ve already shown you. But KeePass isn’t perfect; luckily—like Firefox—it’s extensible. With the right plug-ins, you can make KeePass integrate more tightly with your browser of choice, automatically back up your database, increase security, and more.
NOTE: KeePass is Windows only, but a port of KeePass—called KeePassX—is available for OS X and Linux. Unfortunately they don’t work with the plug-ins below.
Know Your Shortcuts
Before we talk plug-ins, I want to quickly highlight KeePass’s most important keyboard shortcut, which isn’t immediately obvious to new users. As long as KeePass is running, you can invoke the auto-type keyboard shortcut from any application to automatically fill in login information for the web site you’re visiting or other applications (like an instant messaging client) you’re currently viewing. The global auto-type shortcut is Ctrl+Alt+A by default, but you can change it to whatever you want by heading to the Advanced tab of the Options and clicking the Auto-Type button. As long as KeePass is running in your system tray, it will automatically type your login credentials where you need them (just make sure the login box has focus). The auto-type feature can be a touch buggy with certain web sites, but that’s where the plug-ins come in handy.
NOTE: To install most KeePass plug-ins, all you need to do is unzip the download and drag the plug-in files into your KeePass directory. This varies for some plug-ins, though, so be sure to check the included Readme files or other instructions.
Integrate KeePass with Firefox
KeePass works well with Firefox out of the blocks, but it could be better. Let’s take a look at two ways you can improve the way KeePass works with the ‘fox.
If you’ve been using Firefox to manage your passwords up until now, the first thing you’ll want to do is import your Firefox passwords into KeePass. We’ve shown you how to do this before, but a new KeePass plug-in called ClockWork’s Firefox to KeePass Importer was since developed specifically for this purpose. All you need to do is install the Firefox to Keepass Converter plug-in and the KeePass XML Import plug-in. It’s still a multi-step process, but it’s better than the old alternative and the developer has detailed instructions.
The other way you can make KeePass work better with Firefox isn’t necessarily pretty, but it’s incredibly useful. By default the auto-type feature I mentioned above can have a tough time determining whether or not it should type in passwords for anything but the domain you specified in the URL field. For example, if I hit Ctrl+Alt+A to auto-type my login for Lifehacker from our homepage, it works perfectly. On the other hand, if I try the same thing from an individual post, auto-type won’t recognise the page and won’t submit my username and password. The Hostname in Title Bar Firefox extension automatically adds the root domain of the site you’re visiting to your Firefox window title so that KeePass can easily recognise and auto-type passwords no matter where you are on a site.
Automatically Launch a Site and Log in From KeePass
If you’re already looking at KeePass entry you want to log in to, you can double-click the URL in KeePass to launch your default browser and navigate to that site. Once you’re there, quickly firing off the Ctrl+Alt+A shortcut should make quick work of filling in the password. Wouldn’t it be easier, though, if KeePass automatically filled in that information for you? With the KeeForm plug-in installed, it can.
After you install this plug-in to the KeePass directory, you also need to paste:
…to the end of the
KeePass.ini file. KeeForm works like a charm, and the method it uses is even keylogger safe. Unfortunately there is one major downside: KeeForm supports Internet Explorer only. (I can’t help but think a quick AutoHotkey script could pull off the same functionality in Firefox if anyone’s looking for a small project.)
Integrate KeePass with Internet Explorer
While we’re on the subject of IE, KeePass provides a couple other useful integration plug-ins for those of you forced to use IE because of IT lockdown or those who—*gasp*—like it.
The best one is probably the KeePass Toolbar plug-in, which installs a toolbar in Internet Explorer that allows the two applications to communicate directly. That means any new username and password you type into IE will automatically be added to KeePass (provided an instance of KeePass is running in the background).
Automatically Back Up Your Database
The great thing about KeePass is that you can securely export your database and use it with any installation of KeePass; all you need to remember is your master password. You can manually do this any time you want, but sometimes that’s not enough. (After all, what’s more important to have a good backup plan for than your passwords?) Luckily there are a couple of different backup plug-ins to ensure you never lose your passwords: Another Backup Plugin and DB_Backup. I prefer DB_Backup, which automatically creates a new backup at a destination of your choice whenever you save a new password to KeePass.
Boost Your KeePass Security with an On-Screen Keyboard
If you’re using KeePass to begin with, chances are you’ve got an eye for privacy and data security. When you use KeePass, all of your important passwords are encrypted in your database; that means you never have to enter them manually anywhere, which also means keyloggers can have a tough time grabbing those passwords. On the other hand, you have one master password, and you have to type that in to access any of your other passwords. If you’re feeling really paranoid about keyloggers, you could try the On-Screen Keyboard plug-in, which allows you to enter your password using your mouse and an on-screen keyboard. (If you’re looking something similar to put on your thumb drive, check out previously mentioned Neo’s SafeKeys.) After you install this plug-in, you may need to enable it in KeePass under Tools -> Plug-ins. Some keyloggers will still take screenshots whenever you click your mouse, so it’s not a foolproof solution, but it’s still not a bad option to have, especially if you’re running KeePass on a public computer off your thumb drive.
Sync Your Passwords
Probably the most exciting KeePass plug-in is KeePassSync, a tool that synchronises your KeePass database between multiple computers over the internet. This feature is sort of the holy grail for an app like KeePass, but unfortunately it’s only available for KeePass 2, which is currently in alpha. I’d normally throw caution to the wind and go for it anyway, but the developers stress that KeePass 2 alpha is unstable, and subsequent releases could lose all of your passwords. That’s enough to throw me off a cool plug-in (barely), but this is one huge development to watch out for in the future of KeePass that should also increase your confidence in the direction that this free, open-source application is headed.
KeePass is an incredible tool for managing your passwords, and if you haven’t already found a favourite password manager, I strongly recommend giving it a try. If you’re already using KeePass, let’s hear more about your favourite plug-ins and tricks in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who believes password management shouldn’t take 30% of your brain’s memorisation capacity. His special featureHack Attack appears every week on Lifehacker.