Where Does a Computer Save Passwords?

By E.D. Strong

Passwords have become an important part of computer use, and as they are necessary to access increasing amounts of personal data, such as Social Security numbers, diaries, tax forms and banking records, they take on greater importance. That's why it's a good idea to know where passwords are stored and how you can protect them from security threats.


Windows-based computer programs save local passwords in the security account manager (SAM) database, which converts passwords into hashes. Protecting the database's contents relies on one of two methods, depending on whether it is Windows XP or a newer Windows version. XP uses the LANMAN technique, which converts a password into two seven-character uppercase strings, while newer Windows versions (such as Vista) store local passwords on a disk in a file named "Security."

Mac OS X

Mac OS X-based Apple computers rely on a key chain, which is stored locally at "~/Library/Keychains/" or "/Library/Keychains/." Accessing the key chain differs depending on whether you store a system password or application password. To access a system password (such as the "Admin" password), insert the original Install disc and pick "Reset Password" from the "Utilities" menu. User passwords can be changed via the key chain available through the "Accounts" section of "System Preferences."

Internet Explorer

The Microsoft browser Internet Explorer stores passwords in the "Windows Registry." Although encrypted, free applications, such as IE Password Finder, can retrieve the data. IE offers a save password option that stores passwords, and security experts, such as those at SANS Institute, recommend the feature be disabled when a computer is open to the public. Uncheck "Usernames and Passwords in Forms" under the "Personal Information" tab of IE's "Content Internet Options" section located under the "Tools" menu.


Apple's Safari stores passwords in the Mac OS X key chain application. The Safari key chain is located in the same area as other Mac OS X key chains at either "~/Library/Keychains/" or "/Library/Keychains/." To access the passwords from Safari, choose the "Preferences" menu item, then the "Autofill" option. Click the "Edit" button near "User Names and Passwords." Use this area to also delete entries. To prevent storing passwords, uncheck "User Names and Passwords."


The open-source Firefox browser stores passwords (along with bookmarks and other settings) in a "Profiles" folder. In Windows Vista, the folder is stored in "C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming." For Windows XP, the Firefox "Profiles" folder is located in "C:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\." Mac OS X users can find the Firefox file in "~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles." The main profile is stored in a file name with eight random characters followed by ".default." Within Firefox, passwords can be viewed at "Tools/Options/Security."