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Storing internet passwords - useful feature or security risk?

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There is a useful feature in web browsers that helps you with login details for websites and services on the web. The browser can remember your login name or password and it can automatically enter them for you when you visit the site or use the service.

It is a great effort and time saver and it's great being able to just go straight into a site without bothering with the login details. However, you should be aware that this clever and useful feature can also be misused.

It is possible for anyone with access to your computer to discover all your passwords for your online banks, shopping sites, Facebook and other websites that require you to log in.

Take Google Chrome for example. Start the browser and and click the spanner icon in the top right corner. Select Options and then Personal Stuff on the left. Click Manage Saved Passwords and you will see a list of websites that Chrome has stored passwords for. The passwords are blanked out, but all you need to do to reveal them is to click one and then click Show.

In Firefox go to the Firefox menu in the top left corner and select Options, Options. Choose the Security tab and click Saved Passwords. Click Show Passwords and you'll see them all alongside the websites they are used with.

Firefox passwords

Of course, it is very useful being able to automatically login to a website, but anyone that has access to your computer can simply look up all your passwords and copy them. They would then be able to access any of the websites and services that you access, stealing your identity.

Firefox lets you set a master password and this blocks access to the stored passwords list. You will need to enter it once for each browsing session, which is a slight irritation, but you may consider it worth it.