4 password managers offer security anytime, anywhere

Find your passwords and other data on any device.

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Siber Systems created RoboForm more than a decade ago to automate the process of filling out forms online -- until the CEO decided that he wanted to use it to automatically fill in user account names and passwords as well. The feature, which started as "a utility, a hobby for the CEO," is now the primary reason why people buy the product, says Bill Carey, vice president of marketing. The company claims to have more than 3 million users worldwide.


RoboForm supports a wide range of operating systems, browsers and mobile devices.

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Although RoboForm supports a wide range of operating systems, browsers and mobile devices, only the native Windows version of the program offers the complete range of features. RoboForm sells two Windows versions: RoboForm for Windows and RoboForm2Go, a Windows-based application that can run from a USB key when inserted into any Windows computer. A native application for Linux is not yet available. Siber Systems plans to release a native version for Mac OS X later this year.

RoboForm runs from the Windows task bar or from a browser toolbar extension (the application automatically installs extensions for Firefox or Internet Explorer; the Chrome extension has to be downloaded and installed manually). You have to use a bookmarklet to use it with Safari, Opera and other browsers. The Firefox toolbar also can be installed into Firefox Portable Edition for use on a USB drive.

After you install RoboForm and set up a master password, the program begins asking if it may collect user names and passwords as you enter them into Web sites. (It can also import data from some sources, such as browsers.)

A pop-up window appears when you visit a site for the first time and prompts you to save the log-in credentials into a newly named passcard. Thereafter, whenever you visit that site, you can click the Login button and choose the appropriate passcard, or navigate to the site and click on a context-sensitive shortcut button in your toolbar to log in.

For example, if you're already on the log-in page for, say, Facebook, you just have to click on the button (which will say "Facebook") on the toolbar to log in. (Make sure the correct account credentials are selected -- if you have multiple accounts it presents them all.)

On each Windows computer you use, RoboForm stores an encrypted copy of your password data locally and keeps everything in sync by way of a master copy stored on its cloud-based service, RoboForm Online.

RoboForm for Windows sells for $29.95 for the first machine and $9.95 for each additional computer. RoboForm2Go sells for $39.95 per USB drive, or $19.95 if you also buy RoboForm for Windows. Software applications required to use RoboForm with mobile devices are free.

RoboForm Online is also free -- you can log into the Web site and use it without buying any other RoboForm products. You can copy/paste user names and passwords from the RoboForm Online Web site into a Web site you're trying to log into, but the process goes faster if you install a RoboForm JavaScript bookmarklet into your browser. (The bookmarklet works with virtually any browser that supports JavaScript, including those for Mac OS X and Linux systems.)

Siber Systems also offers apps for a variety of mobile phone platforms, including iPhone/iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile (up to version 6; they are no doubt working on Windows Phone 7), Palm and Symbian. These allow access to the online copy of your password data but do not include local backup copies or offline access to your data.

I tested the free RoboForm app for the iPhone on an iPad. To access your data you enter a four-digit pin instead of your master password.

Because Apple doesn't allow add-ons to Safari on the iPhone, the RoboForm app includes its own bare-bones browser window. You select the target Web site from RoboForm's list of sites and the app opens a second tab through which you log into and view that Web site. It's not the same as using your native browser, but it's workable.

I had no trouble logging into most sites but could not log into a Gmail account. Resynchronizing the data did not help. According to support manager Andrew Steed, Google treats the HTTP request I saved when accessing the Google log-in screen from a desktop differently when it's coming from an iPhone or iPad -- presumably because it normally would redirect you from Google.com to a log-in page tailored for your mobile device. To get around this, I manually entered the generic address www.google.com into the passcard's URL field, which then redirected the iPad to the appropriate log-in screen. I was able to log in just fine.

Such are the idiosyncrasies that can crop up when you're sharing a common password database across devices.

RoboForm works just fine once you're up and running, but getting all of the pieces and parts downloaded, set up and synchronized can lead to some head-scratching moments -- a point that Siber Systems acknowledges. A spokesperson says this will be addressed when a version 7 (now in beta) is released later this year.

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