Do any of your passwords look like 12345678 or qwerty123 ? If you’re like most people, you may have had one of these passwords for some or all of your online accounts.
These types of passwords are both common and incredibly easy to hack. Luckily, password manager software can help you generate and store complex and unique passwords for all of your accounts.
Summary: A password manager is a browser extension or app that helps you generate and store strong passwords. It can even automatically fill in your email and password combination when you attempt to log-into a website or app. Many password managers offer a free version for a single device, and a premium version with additional features for multiple devices.
What is a Password Manager?
A password manager or a password vault is a program that lets you store, manage, and generate your passwords locally or online. The passwords stored in these programs are usually encrypted in a dedicated database behind one master password.
When you enter a username and a password into the encrypted vault, all you have to remember is the master password. You will be asked to enter that password every time you log into the software. Doing so will unlock the password vault so you can retrieve all passwords you need from it.
Although most password generator and management software works on Windows and macOS, several password managers also offer native apps for Linux devices.
We can categorize password managers in multiple ways. We can talk about a browser-based password manager, token-based password managers, cloud based password manager, and more.
You can also categorize password managers according to the technologies they use. The best password manager will have a variety of methods available to protect your passwords. However, most of them work with a master password.
Web-Based Password Manager vs. Locally Installed Password Managers
Web-based password managers are available in the form of a browser extension. Most password managers of this type have free versions you can install with a simple click of a button. They are convenient to use and install, and provide a great service.
All popular browsers, like Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, have their own password managers. However, they can hardly compete with a proper password manager program that comes in the form of desktop or mobile apps.
For example, Internet Explorer and Chrome have password managers that let you store passwords on your computer.
However, the data is stored in an unencrypted form. This means that anyone who breaks into your computer or gains access to your data can steal your passwords. You would have to encrypt your PC’s hard drive in order to protect the security of your passwords.
Mozilla Firefox has a master password feature that lets you encrypt passwords using one master password that’s stored on your hard drive in the encrypted format. But this password manager is far from perfect. You can’t generate random passwords stored on different platforms. For example, a password you enter on Firefox won’t be synced to your iOS device.
Web-based password managers also come with fewer security features. A locally installed password manager program stores all passwords in an encrypted form. The program also generates secure random passwords and comes with a more robust user interface. You can access your passwords regardless of the device you’re using, be it your smartphone, computer, or tablet.
Saving Passwords on Browsers
If you use a web browser on your own computer, it’s perfectly fine to have your browser save the password for you. However, you should keep the software updated to its latest version. Also, you should be the only person using that computer.
If you use a shared computer, never save your passwords on such devices. If you have to log in on such a computer, remember to log out when you finish using it.
Why Use a Password Manager?
There are plenty of benefits when it comes to using a password manager, both in terms of security and convenience. Let’s explore some reasons you should use a password manager.
You won’t have to memorize your passwords
Do you hate having to remember all those different passwords for different accounts? How often are you confused about the correct password for a specific account?
With a password manager, you are no longer required to memorize your passwords. By simply remembering one master password, you can unlock all the other ones. A great thing is that there are plenty of cloud-based password managers so you can gain access to your vault from just about any device.
You can use the auto-generate password feature
Almost all modern-day password managers will offer to create an auto-generated password when you create a new account in an app or a website. Usually, these are very secure passwords that include a long line of alphanumeric characters that are virtually impossible to guess.
You’ll get security alerts
Sometimes scammers, or people who have the intent to trick you and steal important information from you, can send emails or create false campaigns. They can mask themselves as a friend or family member of yours and send you a link that asks you to enter your login credentials in order to access the content. In truth, that link is made to collect your personal information and expose your password.
But if you use a password manager, your computer won’t automatically fill the password field because it doesn’t recognize the site as trustworthy.
You may receive a security alert or a pop-up window saying the website you’re about to enter isn’t reliable and there may be a scammer trying to steal your password.
All your passwords will be synchronized
One of the best reasons to have a password manager is to have your passwords nicely organized and synchronized across all your devices. If you visit a particular website on your desktop and then visit the same place from your tablet or mobile device, you’ll be able to access the site using the autofill feature offered by the password manager. No need to remember and retype the password all over again.
Data breach alerts
A reliable password manager will also notify you in case your password appears in data breaches across the web. The program will send you a notification asking you to change your password as soon as they get information about the data breach. You can act fast to prevent your credentials from being used for malicious activities on the web.
As you can see, using a password manager has plenty of benefits.
Protect Your Password Manager
Even though it seems fairly simple to use a password manager, things can get complicated if you lose access to your master password or a cybercriminal gets access to your password manager account.
There are steps you can take to protect your password manager.
Use two-factor authentication
Two factor authentication or multi-factor authentication is a robust way to help ensure that only the person who owns an account can access it. This consists of adding another type of authentication other than your password. Most often, this can be sending a code to your personal phone number or a number code to your email address.
This way, a cybercriminal has little use of your password because they will still need access to your phone or email inbox.
Choose a strong master password
You should create a strong master password that consists of at least three words. Note that you can’t save this password in your manager app, so you have to remember it.
If you can’t remember your password, make sure to write it on a piece of paper and keep it in a secure place.
After all, strong passwords for your social media or email accounts are of little worth if your master password is easy to guess.
Keep the software updated
Finally, you should always update your password manager to its latest version. Most apps will send you notifications when a new version is available, so make sure to act on them immediately. Apart from visual changes, software engineers also address security bugs in password managers, so there’s less chance of a malicious attack or security breach.
Password Manager Examples
Now that you’re aware of how password managers work and why you should use one, let’s explore some of the best examples currently available on the market.
Dashlane is one of the newer password manager programs that comes with excellent features. It may be less popular due to the relatively short presence on the market, but it certainly makes up for it with robust apps for most platforms. If you’re a Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS user, you can benefit from this app.
You can find a Dashlane extension for all browsers. There’s a dedicated dashboard that performs password analysis. You can use the automatic password changer that changes your passwords for you so you don’t have to deal with it.
This is a completely free password manager for use on a single device. You can upgrade your account to premium if you wish to have access to the app from different devices and use the cross-syncing feature.
LastPass is a cloud based, stateless password manager with mobile apps, desktop apps, and browser extensions for all operating systems and browsers. There are also advanced two-factor authentication options and other security features.
The passwords you generate in LastPass are stored on their servers using encryption, and then the apps locally decrypt and encrypt the passwords when needed. This means that not even the LastPass staff has access to your passwords, even if they wanted to.
Bear in mind that LastPass is essentially based on a cloud. So if you prefer a desktop app to be your password manager, you may want to consider other options.
KeePass is a great alternative to LastPass. It’s among the most popular desktop based password managers that also has browser extensions and mobile apps. There are many benefits of locally installed password managers, one of them being that you’re in total control of the information stored on them. A manager like KeePass is also open source, which means you can change the code of the platform if you wish to customize it according to your own needs.
The main downside, of course, is that you’re the only one responsible for the passwords. You need to take care of the synchronization between devices. You can always use Dropbox or similar apps to do this task. However, this may be against your initial rule in the first place to not use cloud software for storing passwords.
Bitwarden is another open-source password manager that’s a great alternative to KeePass. The software is available for individuals, teams, and corporations, it has cloud syncing features, and it comes with a free and paid version. You can access the software through the browser extension, desktop app, or mobile app.
The software uses strong encryption to store your passwords, and that makes it almost impossible for a hacker to access any of the data on its servers. Much like other password manager apps on this list, Bitwarden works on a zero-knowledge policy, meaning they can’t access your data.
Password managers like Bitwarden are easy to use and they offer robust synchronization features across operating systems and mobile devices, so you’re sure to get a great value.
LogmeOnce is one of the best multi platform password managers out there. You can use your fingerprint, photo, or PIN to access all your passwords from any computer, mobile device, or browser extension.
Other notable features include an encrypted database, a highly customized interface, and the possibility to use it on multiple devices.
The main downside, however, is that the add ons can get expensive for an average user.
Password Management Made Easy
After reading this article, you now understand how password managers work, why they are indispensable for your internet safety, and what some of the best ones are.
If you ever thought password management is a tiring task, we have now proven otherwise. Generating, storing, and managing your passwords on a single device can be done with password managers for free. And if you wish to sync your passwords across devices, you can check out the premium versions that offer many more possibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a password manager and how does it work?
A password manager is a locally stored or cloud-based software that helps generate, manage, and synchronize passwords across multiple devices. You can use a mobile or desktop app to access your data.
Is it a good idea to use a password manager?
If you want to generate strong passwords for your user accounts and make it almost impossible for hackers to break into them, then it’s certainly a good idea to use password managers. Plus, all your accounts will be listed under a single master password for easy access.
What are the advantages of password managers?
There a multiple advantages of password managers: A. Generate highly secure passwords. B. Store and synchronize these passwords on all your devices. C. Automatically fill-in these passwords when you log in to websites and apps.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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