You’ve lost a password—an important password. This is an unthinkable, stress-inducing event in this modern digital world. But, it could be worse.
Let me tell you about Stefan Thomas. Stefan Thomas forgot the password to a hard drive which contains 7002 Bitcoins. For the very, very few people who still don’t know about Bitcoin at the time of writing this article, that would be worth $326,620,893.60! Of course, when you read this, it could be a billion or zero, but this article isn’t about the fickle nature of Bitcoin.
Imagine what you could with that kind of money. Now, imagine what you would do if you forgot that password! Let’s not get too drastic here, as I’m happy to say that Stefan Thomas has made peace with the fact that he will probably never touch that money. (Huge respect for that self-actualization if you are reading this, Stefan!)
We are going to go through all the ways you can recover passwords, how you can use modern tools to prevent forgetting passwords in the future, and what to do when all else fails (hint, if you have to accept it is gone forever and at least you aren’t out 300 million US dollars).
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How to recover passwords
To find long-lost passwords, you need to cast a wide net. That means searching around your home, office, and all devices. We are going to start with the digital search and then follow up with some of the places where you may find an old password in the real world.
Search your web browsers
The first place to look for a lost password is your web browser. The way you find passwords is different for each browser, so we’ll go through them one by one. Also, note that you may have switched which browser you use regularly at one or more points in time, so it may not be in the one you are using to read this.
In addition, you may have reused the password you are looking for (note: don’t reuse passwords), so think about login info for sites you signed up for around the same time as the lost password.
Open up Internet Explorer and go to Control Panel, Credential Manager, and then Manage Web Credentials. Click on each site you want to check and select “Show.” Once you have entered your Windows password, IE will let you view your login information.
Open up Firefox and go to Options, Options, Security, and then Saved Passwords. You will be able to see all of your accounts as a list. Clicking “Show Passwords” will reveal your login information.
Open up Chrome and go to Settings, Show Advanced Settings, and then Manage Passwords. You can see your credentials by clicking on an entry and selecting “Show.”
Open up Safari and then go to Preferences and then Passwords. You can then click on multiple sites and then select “Show Passwords for Selected Websites.” Once you enter your account password and follow the prompts, you’ll be able to see your login information.
Search your email inboxes
Have you ever sent yourself an email with an important password in it (note: don’t ever email yourself passwords)? Can you think of words that might be found in those files? If you sent any of these lost passwords from one account to another, would you know what email account you sent them from? Let’s go through some of these prompts following the search instructions below.
Before you get started digging through your email, please note that many thousands of emails are hacked every year, and your passwords could now be available online in multiple places. Once you find your password be sure to change the information and find a more secure way to store it.
When you save new passwords, the data is hashed, salted, and encrypted locally on your computer before being uploaded to TeamPassword via an encrypted connection. This level of encryption makes it impossible for nefarious actors to intercept your passwords.
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First, double-click the message so it is open in its own window. This will make things easier. Press F4 or click “Find” on the message toolbar. Then, you can define your search options.
For a simple search, just type the terms in the box at the top of the page. You can also click on the down arrow for advanced search filters. Then, click the search icon.
As with Gmail, you can type basic search terms in the box found at the top of the page. You can also refine your search using the menu in front of the search box.
Whichever email provider you are searching, be sure to vary your search terms. “Credentials,” “login,” and “password” are all possible hits, but so is the name of the organization for which you have lost your password.
If that fails, figure out approximately when you originally would have made the password and try to search by dates. You can also search in your sent email folder, as you may have long deleted the received email, but the sent message might still remain.
Search through cloud-based services
It is probably repetitive at this point, but it bears repeating, all the same. Storing your passwords in a cloud-based service such as Google Drive or Evernote is not a secure way to manage your passwords. However, if you have done so and then lost your password, follow the steps below to search your services for those lost passwords.
The following instructions are for a desktop computer or an iOS device. You can bypass them on your Android devices and just search using Google Now.
Open Google Drive and login if you aren’t already. Then, type your search terms. You can then peruse the list of documents found. Google Drive will search document titles, content, and images by default, which could provide too many results. It is best to start with a narrow search and then expand if your search was unsuccessful. To only search titles, add the phrase “title:” to the start of your search query.
Open Evernote and sign in. Click the magnifying glass on the left and simply enter the keywords you wish to search.
Search for files on your computer’s hard drive
Some people write important passwords in a Word or Excel file or some other note-taking file. Have you done this at any point? If you can’t remember, try searching your files for your lost passwords.
This can be done on both Windows and Mac.
Searching for files on Windows
Windows search, by default, doesn’t scan all the files on your computer. To do so, before typing in your search query in Windows Search, perform the following actions. Go to the Control Panel and open “Indexing Options.” Select Advanced and then File Types. Select all file extensions you wish to search (.docx, .doc, .xlsx, .xls, etc.). If you don’t see the options, you can add more. Click the radial option “Index Properties and File Contents” as well as “Always Search File Names and Contents” on the “Search” tab.
Searching for files on Mac
Mac is a bit simpler. You can just click on the magnifying glass in the top-right corner of your screen near the date and time. Then, type in your search terms and view the results.
Collect passwords from your mobile device
How long have you had a smartphone? For most people, the answer is longer than you have had a password manager like TeamPassword. During those early years of mobile Internet, did you ever store passwords in the note app on your phone (note: don’t store your passwords in a notetaker on your phone)?
If so, you can use spotlight on your iPhone to search through your notes to find any lost passwords stored there.
Search for passwords around your home
Writing passwords down on paper can be as insecure as the location you store the paper. If you keep backup files in sealed envelopes tucked away with your 2009 tax return, there is a good chance that no one will find it.
That being said, if that password holds the key to 7002 Bitcoins, it is probably worth putting it in a bank safety deposit box.
If you work in a shared office, definitely don’t write passwords on a sticky note and put it on your monitor!
But this isn’t a time to judge. You can change your ways after finding your lost password. Here’s a list of places in your home that might be hiding your lost password:
- On or under the desk in your home office
- In your home vault or security box
- In a filing cabinet
- Your kitchen junk drawer
- That pile of mail that really should be put in the recycling bin
- Old notepads or diaries
- Old calendars
- Wireless routers (sometimes default WiFi passwords are on the back)
- Your wallet
When all else fails…
When all else fails, take a deep breath and accept it is gone. If at some point in the future you find your lost password, then great, but for now—for your sanity—just let it go. If Stefan Thomas can be zen about losing a password and over 300 million dollars along with it, you can create a new email account—and your boss can forgive you for a lost password.
How to prevent lost passwords
So you have lost a password. Let’s make sure that is the last time!
Now, you can safely share passwords with teammates while ensuring that your projects are safe. With AES 256-bit encryption and DSS-compliant security, TeamPassword keeps all your assets safe, and you’ll never have to search for a lost password again.