What Is a Password Manager?

From capital letters to punctuation and numbers, most sites require long and complex passwords to best protect user information. While the benefits of added security are understandable, trying to keep track of the complicated passwords used across dozens of websites and applications can be easier said than done. Studies estimate that the average business user has 191 passwords to keep straight.

For those who struggle to manage passwords across dozens of sites, a password manager can be an excellent investment. These programs are designed to manage security by creating strong passwords and keeping them organized, and both businesses and individuals alike can make use of the protections they offer. From safeguarding confidential corporate content to keeping personal banking logins secure, a password manager can be a very valuable tool.

The Benefits of a Password Manager

The biggest advantage for individual and business password manager users is improving online safety by removing the need to remember complex passwords across countless sites. But, there are other added benefits for using a password management system, including:

Auto-generate secure passwords for you.

With the growing risk of cybercrime, ensuring passwords are secure and hard to guess is more important than ever. However, creating distinct yet memorable passwords that include capital letters, lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers for every site with a registration can be easier said than done.

A password manager can take the pressure off of password creation. When signing up for a new site or service, your password manager can suggest a randomized password that meets specific platform requirements. This password will then be stored within the program’s memory, resulting in the implementation of a password that is hard to crack but easy to access.

Alert you to phishing sites.

Phishing sites, or fraudulent sites posing as legitimate sites in an effort to steal information, are all too common on the web. Those who fall for phishing sites can put personal and financial information at risk, opening themselves up for potentially dangerous attacks or even a stolen identity.

Password managers, however, can reduce the risk of falling victim to online traps. As the data associated with password managers is site-specific, your password manager won’t auto-populate information when you visit an illegitimate site. This can stop you from entering a username and password into a phishing site, effectively preventing this common form of cybercrime.

You don’t have to remember all of your passwords.

If you’re tired of trying to remember passwords across countless sites, you’re not alone. However, a password manager can help you circumvent this common burden by storing all of your username and password combinations in a secure manner so that you don’t have to rely on memory alone.

When you visit sites or open programs that are stored in your password manager, password information can auto-populate. This makes it easy to log in anywhere without the need to remember passwords yourself. Even if you go years between using a particular site, your password manager will ensure you always have access.

Sync across all of your devices and operating systems.

As many web users with multiple devices know, a password saved on your computer may not auto-populate on your phone. Different password memory systems will keep your access to passwords fragmented, creating a logistical headache that can make using the same services across multiple devices unnecessarily frustrating.

Luckily, some password managers work across devices, providing a way to unify password use for a more effective approach to accessing websites. Passwords implemented across all of your devices can be secured in one convenient location, simplifying the process of creating and using passwords.

Types of Password Managers

Password managers come in a few different shapes and sizes to best accommodate individual needs. The three most common types are desktop, cloud-based and single sign-on.

  • A desktop password manager is one of the oldest and most popular options. This kind of application encrypts and stores passwords directly on a user’s machine, limiting the potential for breaches. However, these products can only be used on a single machine: a distinct limitation for those who use multiple computers and mobile devices.
  • A cloud-based password manager lives in the cloud and can be accessed from any device, regardless of network or location. This makes all passwords readily available from anywhere, offering an ease of use otherwise unavailable. However, security is left in the hands of the password management provider, which can increase the likelihood of potential breaches.
  • Single sign-on password managers are most common in a corporate setting. With this tool, all websites and accounts required can be accessed using a single sign-on as opposed to different usernames and passwords for different services. While diversity is generally recommended for the sake of security, SSO products generally consolidate passwords on platforms that are all related, like a variety of work sites hosted internally.

What Is Two-Factor Authentication?

Two-factor authentication, commonly abbreviated as 2FA, provides an extra layer of device or program security. Most 2FA setups include two of the three following categories:

  • Knowledge, like a PIN or password
  • Possessions, like a key fob or app that generates a secondary code
  • Personal qualities, like fingerprint or face ID

By requiring two of these conditions instead of a single password, breaking through a site or platform’s defenses becomes more challenging.

How Does a Password Manager Work?

A password manager is a third-party program that creates and manages passwords on your behalf. Instead of remembering your own passwords or using the same passwords across multiple sites — a tactic not recommended due to the increased likelihood of unauthorized account access — a password manager can do the hard work for you.

To get started, you will need to choose your desired product, sign up, make any necessary payments and download the software. This will usually require adding an extension to any browsers you use. If you would like to sync a cloud-based password manager across devices, you may also need to install a phone or tablet app on your mobile device.

When you sign up for a new website, your password manager will suggest a complex password that is hard to guess and store it for you so that you don’t have to remember it. The next time you visit the site, the program can automatically populate your login information so that you don’t have to manually enter long and complicated passwords for every site you visit. If for some reason you do not want a password manager to create or store a password for you, this function can be disabled on a site by site basis.

If you need to access a full list of passwords contained within the password manager, this is usually accessible as well. This can be a helpful way of viewing passwords to log in on a different device when using a desktop or browser-specific password manager.

How Much Does a Password Manager Cost?

The cost of a password manager can vary from one program to the next, but usually starts around $5 a month. Some password managers require a monthly fee while others can be purchased for a year upfront for $40 to $50. Many programs offer a free trial so that prospective users can evaluate features and functions before making a commitment. Some desktop password managers can be purchased in full for a one-time fee.

There are free password managers available, but using these products can be riskier or less convenient. For example, Google and Apple both provide their own password managers. However, some of these kinds of managers can only sync between devices when you use the same browser or operating system, creating a less than efficient solution. Further, free products are generally less focused on encryption due to a reduced investment from users, which can put your personal information at increased risk. Some platforms come in both free and premium versions with tech support and storage space prioritized for paying members. Whether you choose a free or paid option will largely depend on your personal management needs as well as security risk tolerance.

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