Passwords are essential to modern life — they protect people’s money, correspondence, work, and identities. The best passwords use long strings of unique, unconnected letters, numbers, and symbols. Despite knowing this, most people use passwords that are easily cracked and reuse them across multiple platforms.
The average person has 100 password-protected online accounts, making it nearly impossible to remember a unique password for each one. Password managers can help take some of that work off of your shoulders. This software securely stores passwords in a digital vault, letting you create strong, unique passwords for all your applications. Learn how to choose the best password manager, why you need one, and how the software works.
At its most basic, a password manager is a piece of software that stores and manages passwords and login information. Most browsers have rudimentary password management systems that can remember your details for next time. However, these typically don’t have important security features of dedicated password management software.
More sophisticated systems use military-grade encryption to keep your details safe. The passwords are locked in a digital vault, which 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. For this reason, it’s important to remember your master key, as it might not be recoverable.
Although encryption and automatic password generation may seem complicated, password managers usually offer a simple user experience (UX). The first step is to download the software. You’ll be prompted to create a master password. After the system is set up, this will be the only password you’ll have to remember.
It should be strong and more than 12 characters long. Next, 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 password manager is usually through a browser extension. The software should have instructions for downloading the extension on your favorite browser. Opening your browser will prompt you to log in to your account using your master key 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.
If you’re using your chosen password manager on your phone, you must first download the app to use the software. Log in using your master key and decide whether 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 typically a Passwords option which will appear in the text field. 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. But with fingerprint or face scans set up, this doesn’t add much 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 helps you make secure choices, as you only have to remember the master password to access your vault. As many programs sync across multiple devices, this can protect your digital identity, whether on a work computer, personal laptop, phone, or tablet.
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 accesses an account, they can’t use those credentials to access 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. You know it’s not a genuine site if nothing is automatically filled in.
Several password managers provide additional 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. You can also create secure notes to save any type of information you’d like to. 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 have access to different accounts, whether to close them or pass access on to colleagues or clients. With a password manager, you can leave the master key so an executor can finalize digital details.
How Password Managers Work: A Beginner’s Guide: Dashlane’s guide to what password managers do and don’t do, how to set them up, and more.
How To Protect Your Data Online by Using a Password Manager: Kaspersky explains whether you should use a password manager, gives tips for selecting one, and has some helpful FAQs.
Information Security Office: Password Managers: Check out Carnegie Mellon University’s recommended password managers and other information.
Up-to-date security and ensuring the password manager is easy to use are important. Ideally, it should also work well with your hardware and software, offer extra features, and fit your budget.
Free password managers are typically safe but will lack some of the extra features and security that paid ones offer.
The main negative to a password manager is that hackers can access your main password and, thus, all your other passwords. Also, password managers don’t help you prevent malware, phishing emails, and other attacks.