Juggling passwords for all the Web sites and accounts we use is a neverending challenge, but one that Microsoft hopes to resolve in Windows 8.
Protecting yourself on the Internet typically requires the use of passwords. But that process has never been easy or truly safe. Most people either try to remember too many passwords or simply use the same passwords for all their accounts. Both approaches leave the door open for hackers to access your personal information.
What's needed is a simpler yet still secure approach.
In the latest edition of the Building Windows 8 blog, Dustin Ingalls, a group program manager on Microsoft's security and identity team, explains how both Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 will try to adopt that simpler yet secure approach.
The upcoming new version of IE will let users store and access the account names and passwords for all of the Web sites and many of the applications they use. You can choose to have IE10 securely house your credentials and then automatically retrieve them when you visit a password-protected site.
The new Metro-style apps can also tap into the same feature since developers will be able to design their apps with the ability to store and retrieve user names and passwords.
Further, as explained in a previous blog, Windows 8 will allow users to log in with their Windows Live IDs across multiple PCs. Doing so will let you synchronize the same settings and other data from one PC to another. This includes the ability to sync your login credentials to all of your Windows 8 PCs, ensuring that your passwords stay consistent on any PC you choose.
As a result, you can set up a complex password for each online account without having to remember it.
"When you store credentials in conjunction with signing in to Windows with your Windows Live ID, Windows enables you to set your password for each account to something that is both complex and unique; since Windows 8 will automatically submit the credential on your behalf, you'll never need to remember it yourself. If you need to see the actual password at some point later, you can view it in the credential manager from any of your Trusted PCs." Ingalls explained.
Windows 7 already offers a Credential Manager through which you can store usernames and passwords, but it looks like the version destined for Windows 8 should provide greater functionality and hopefully ease of use.
Of course, the option to allow Windows 8 and Internet 10 to manage your passwords will be totally voluntary. Users not comfortable with this approach can simply choose not to use it. And there are alternatives.
Password managers such as RoboForm and LastPass already let you generate, store, and access complex passwords for all your online accounts. To be fully secure, all you need to remember is one single master password to launch the software.
But Microsoft is also looking beyond passwords by offering better support for certificates, smart cards, and other alternatives in Windows 8.
Though securing your online accounts will probably never be 100 percent easy or foolproof, it's good to see Microsoft at least paying greater attention to this never-ending challenge.