Q: I seem to have trouble recalling all my passwords. When I connect the wireless or get my email, I am asked for passwords. How do I know which one is needed?
A: Every Mac and Windows computer has a series of usernames and passwords that control what happens on your computer. These are in place to protect your data and information. Perhaps, the person who set up your computer chose the passwords and set them to be remembered. Even if the password field was left blank, a password has been set. Avoid this option as it can lead to problems later. To answer to your question, you may be asked to enter your password for several different reasons.
First, you would have a login password to your own account. You don’t know about it because when you start your Mac, it is remembered and automatically entered for you. You are most likely an “administrator” as well so you would get prompted for a password whenever you install software or install an update. You would see a message that says you need to “enter your password” in order to “authorize” and complete the function.
Second, you would also have a username and password that connects you to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The Internet is a toll road – you have to pay to use it so you often have to be “authenticated” to prove that you are in fact the person who is connecting. If for some reason there is a hiccup in the connection, you may be asked to re-enter the password – even though you have also “told” the computer or router to remember the Internet password.
You can use a router that will make the connection to the Internet for you, or your ISP may have supplied you with a modem that has the ability to remember the password and make the connection as needed. Most of these devices are pretty cheaply made, and often the solution to a sour connection is to restart the Internet modem or router. Simply unplug the power to the modem, wait for a minute and then power it back up. This often cures connectivity issues. You may be advised to do this before you call tech support.
Third, you also have a username and password to connect to your mail server and retrieve your email messages. Again, you have to be “authenticated” in order to prove that this is in fact you trying to pick up or send your email. Your email program can also remember your password for you, which is intended to make the experience “easy” for you.
You may get asked to enter your password when you send or receive email because the mail server is busy with your account or because the network connection has gone down. In fact, you do not need to re-enter your password. Once the connection problem is corrected or the mail is processed and received on the server, your mail program will successfully connect.
Recently, major ISPs have joined forces with Hotmail, or Yahoo!, and have been making changes to how email is sent and received. They have been adding more security so you may experience glitches because of that.
You can check what passwords you have with the “Keychain Access” utility in the Utilities folder. While you are in the Finder, press “Command,” “Shift” and “U” to open the Utilities folder. Double click “Keychain Access” and you will see a list of keychains and certificates.
Your email keychain will be of the type “Internet Password” and your wireless password will be of the type “Airport Network Password.” Look for “pop.yourISP.com” in the list. Once you select an item, you can press the “i” at the bottom left of the window to get more information (“Get Info”).
You can click the “[ ] show password” check box, but you will need to enter your computer login password to see it (the same password you use to install software is your login password).
If you cannot find “pop.yourISP.com” then you have not checked “Remember Password in the Keychain.” It is reasonably safe to do so since your desktop Mac doesn’t go anywhere. If you use a laptop you may not want this.