At its most basic, a password manager is software that stores and manages passwords and login information. Most browsers have rudimentary password management systems that can remember your details for next time, although these don’t have all the security and other features that come with dedicated password management software.
More sophisticated systems use military-grade encryption to keep your details safe. The passwords are locked in a digital vault that can only be accessed by a master key or master password. Companies can’t access your vault and don’t have master passwords, so details are kept safe. This does mean it’s important to remember your master key as it might not be recoverable.
Password managers store your passwords in one of two places: the company’s cloud-based server or a vault created on your device. The cloud-based option tends to be more popular, as the vault can be accessed from any device and will be secure even if a computer is lost or stops working. However, some people are more comfortable storing their details away from the cloud.
The program should be a strong advocate for additional security, such as two-factor authentication and biometrics like fingerprint and facial recognition technology. Most programs can automatically create strong passwords for each platform they interact with.
People store personal details on phones and tablets as well as desktop and laptop computers, so your password manager has to go everywhere. Also check that it works on all your operating systems, whether that’s Mac, Windows, Android or even Linux, and has an extension for your favorite browser.
If you do use multiple devices, research the syncing capabilities. Cloud-based vaults can be accessed from any devices, and many desktop-based programs allow you to set up vaults on multiple devices. These vaults are synced when you log in to the internet.
Look at screenshots provided by the company and reviewers to see if it has a user-friendly interface. The system should use plain language, and browser extensions should work automatically. Biometric logins provide convenient tools for using password managers on mobile devices.
Many programs include additional features for extra security. Some flag duplicate or weak passwords, prompting you to change them, or automatically change passwords on a regular schedule. You can also receive security suggestions as you browse. If you have programs you need to share access to, such as a joint bank account, you may be able to set up password sharing with trusted people. Many programs also include secure online storage of important documents.
Although your digital safety is priceless, most people still have budget constraints. There are free password management systems out there, but paid services have better security and features. The paid options range from around $10 to $60 a year for a single person, with family plans adding value if you need the service for multiple people. Look for unlimited password storage and the features you’re most interested in to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
Although encryption and automatic password generation may seem complicated, password managers offer a very simple user experience. The first step is to download the software. You’ll be prompted to create a master password. After the system is working, this will be the only password you have to remember. It should be strong and more than 12 characters long. The next step is to start logging in to your accounts. The software will ask if you want to save the password. Click on yes to log it in your secure vault.
The day-to-day use of the system is usually through a browser extension. The software should have instructions on how to download the extension for your favorite browser. When you open your browser, it will prompt you to log in to your account using your master key. This prompt also comes after your computer has been in sleep mode for added security. Once you’re logged in, the program automatically fills in any credentials you need.
To use the software on a mobile device, you must first download the app. Log in using your master key and decide whether you want to enable fingerprint or face ID scans. Once the app is set up, it can begin automatically filling out details on apps or websites you visit on the device.
When you open a page that requires a password, there’s a Passwords option above the keyboard. Clicking on this will prompt you to log in to the software manager. Once logged in, the fields are filled automatically. The mobile apps don’t allow you to stay logged in, so there’s always a login prompt. However, with fingerprint or face scans set up, this doesn’t add a lot of time to the login process.
The biggest benefit of a password manager is that it remembers your passwords. Most people use weak passwords or reuse them on multiple sites simply because that’s easier to remember. A password manager remembers the passwords for you, helping you make secure choices. You only have to remember the master password to be able to access your vault. As many programs sync across multiple devices, one program can protect your entire digital identity, whether you’re on a work computer, personal laptop, phone, or tablet.
In fact, many password managers auto-generate unique passwords for each site you join. From a security standpoint, this is best practice as it segments your data. If someone does manage to access an account, they can’t use those credentials to access any others. For example, knowing your Facebook password won’t let a hacker log into your bank account. Password managers also protect you from phishing scams. The software automatically fills in details based on the site’s URL. If nothing is automatically filled in, you know it’s not a genuine site.
Many password managers provide additional security storage. As the encryption is so secure, these digital vaults are the perfect place to store copies of important paperwork, such as contracts or mortgages. Many also keep credit card details and other banking information safe in password management systems and can be set up to automatically fill this in, along with your name and delivery address, when you’re shopping online. This also saves you time, as you don’t need to type anything.
A password manager can also be an important part of your digital inheritance. If you pass away, you may want your executor or heirs to be able to access different accounts, whether to close them or to pass access on to colleagues or clients. A password manager lets you leave the master key so an executor can finalize any digital details.