How to retrieve your forgotten passwords

Written by Tyler Jacobson on August 25, 2012

At the top of this series of posts about passwords, I encouraged you to “Go ahead and forget your passwords.”  If you followed this sage advice and did in fact forget your passwords, you will find that this leads to an inevitable problem:

You’ll have forgotten a password.

As much as we’ve trusted our computers to keep our information intact and offloaded from our soft, grey brains, we find that of the hundreds, possibly thousands of passwords we’ve created, we actually need to know what it was that was entered into the “Create New Password” box so long ago.

In this article, I’ll give you tips for finding those passwords locked away in your Mac’s memory, and how to change passwords when neither you, nor your Mac can recollect your needed password.

Keychain Access

Are you running Mac OS X? Did you tell your Email application to remember your password so that you can both forget it and not be required to enter the password every time you open that email application? Do you need to know what your email password is?

If so, GREAT! That’s the perfect recipe for password recovery.

Click on the Finder, either by selecting it from the dock or by clicking on your desktop.

Once in the Finder, click the Go menu at the top of the screen and select Utilities (doing this will open the Applications > Utilities folder)

From the Utilities folder, click to open the Keychain Access application.

With Keychain Access open, you should see 2 panes. Ensure that Passwords is selected in the Category pane on the left pane.

Above the right pane, you will see a search bar. In there, type in the part of your email address that precedes the @ symbol. This will filter your results, making it easier to find the correct record to check. Under the Name field, you will see the name of the mail server that corresponds to your email account. If you see multiple results, check the Date Modified field and select the record most recently modified by double clicking that record.

A box will pop up showing you the attributes of that login record and along the bottom you’ll see an unticked checkbox next to the words Show Password.

Upon clicking on that checkbox, you will be greeted with a window asking for your keychain login (this is your admin login password for your computer), along with an array of buttons asking to Always Allow, Deny or Allow. Enter your password and click Allow.

The blank field next to Show Password will now show your password that’s associated with that account.

Web Browsers

I recognize that your favorite browser may not be represented here and, if that is indeed the case, I apologize in advance. I’m going to address retrieving passwords from the 3 browsers I provided password storage instructions for in my previous article.

Safari

In Safari, click on the Safari menu in the upper left of the screen and select Preferences…

A preferences window will pop up. On that window, select the AutoFill tab.

On the AutoFill screen, click the Edit… button to the right of User names and Passwords

You will now see a list of usernames, hidden passwords and the URL for which those credentials apply to. You can use the Search bar at the upper right of the window to filter only the URL or usernames that you need.

Click the Show passwords checkbox at the bottom of the window. You will be asked for the password you use to access your computer. When you’ve successfully typed that in, you will see your passwords revealed.

Firefox

In Firefox, click on the Firefox menu in the upper left of your screen and select Preferences…

The preference window will then open. Select the Security tab.

On the Security tab, you want to click on the Saved Passwords… button. This will open a new window which will show you a list of sites for which you have asked Firefox to remember your login credentials. You can filter this list by typing the URL or username you’re hunting for the password for in the Search field at the top of the window.

Click the Show Passwords button on the lower right of this window. You will be asked to confirm that you really do want to show the passwords, followed by a window asking you to enter your computer’s password. Once you enter this correctly, your passwords will be revealed.

Google Chrome

In Chrome, visit the URL chrome://chrome/settings/

At the bottom of the screen click the Show advanced settings… link. The Chrome settings page will now offer many more options.

Scroll down to the Passwords and Forms heading and click the Manage Saved Passwords link.

You will be asked if you want to allow Chrome access to your confidential information. Click Allow.

You will now see a list of your saved login credentials along with the site those credentials are used with. You can filter these passwords by typing in the desired URL or username in the Search passwords text box on the Saved Passwords screen.

If your password appears as •••••••, click on that password and a box with the word Show will appear to the right of your hidden password. Click the word Show to reveal your password.

1Password

If you use 1Password to create and store your passwords, like we do here in the MacHighway offices, you will find that retrieving those stored passwords is a fairly painless procedure.

First, launch the 1Password app by double clicking the app in your Applications folder.

You should be greeted with a window requiring your master 1Password password. Enter that password and hit the Unlock button to enter the application.

On the resulting window, you will see 3 columns. Ensure that Logins is selected in the left pane (Logins appears under the Vault heading)

With Logins selected, you will see a list of stored login credentials along with the website those credentials are associated with in the middle column. You can filter these results by typing in the desired URL, description or username in the Search box at the top right of the window.

When you have found the record you’re looking for, select that record with your mouse and the credentials, along with the password, will appear in the right hand column.

Forgot your Password links

There will be times when the password you’re looking for simply can’t be found. In these times, you will want to recognize that the password is, for all intents and purposes, forgotten and it’s time to start anew.

Visit most any site that you need to retrieve your password for and right around the login fields, you should see a link that says something to the effect of “Forgot Your Password?”

Click on that link and follow the instructions to request a new password.

Where your MacHighway account is concerned, you can find the following links to change your various passwords:

How to change your MacHighway Email account password
How to change your MacHighway cPanel/FTP password
How to change your MacHighway Client Area password
(We even have one of those “Forgot Your Password” links for the Client Area, too.)

Last Resort: Contact Customer Service

If you’ve gotten this far with no success…. you may be ready to pull your (or someone else’s) hair out. Take a deep breath and email the customer service department or webmaster of the site you’re having trouble logging into. For the record, our MacHighway Customer Service department is ready to assist you.

Part 1: Go ahead and forget your passwords.
Part 2: What makes a strong password?
Part 3: How to retrieve your forgotten passwords.