Password managers are not only among the safest ways to keep all your online accounts secure, but they also save you from one of the most annoying predicaments in the world: forgetting your password.
Gone are the days of conjuring up a forgettable mishmash of letters, numerals, and symbols for every app or service you’ve signed up for; the best password managers store all your unique passwords in a secure digital vault that can only be accessed by you. Better yet, if you’re sick of creating another jumble of characters, a password manager will create a strong, random password for you.
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In a world rife with large-scale hacks that leak private information that can lead to fraud, identity theft, and ransom threats, it’s more important than ever to fortify all your professional, social and personal accounts. Using the same password with the inevitable “!” lobbed in at the end for all your profiles no longer makes the cut, as all it takes is one low-level hacker to crack the code and reap the rewards you thought were once secure.
While the best authenticator apps, best antivirus apps, and best VPN services add an extra layer of protection for your daily online activity, the best password managers will keep the prying eyes of threat actors at bay. But there are a few things to think about before choosing the right password manager for you.
Getting started with a password manager
While the best password managers will create, save and secure your credentials — whether it be on your laptop, tablet or smartphone — for multiple online accounts, you’ll still need to come up with a master password to access all the others. This password needs to be unguessable and unforgettable at the same time, as it’s difficult to recover this vital piece of information; it isn’t as simple as hitting “forgot password.”
Most of us will consider ourselves password savvy, but it’s a good idea to take these tips on board when you’re planning to create one password to rule them all. Speaking of that obvious Lord of the Rings reference, it’s important to find a connection between your assortment of characters and something you care about — and, even more importantly, make it obscure. “IHeartLOTR!” isn’t what we’re going for here.
Instead of using something generic, take a quote or passage that’s memorable to you but completely random to others, then mix it up to your liking. For instance, take this famed quote from J. R. R. Tolkien:
“One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them” - J. R. R. Tolkien
Change “One” into numerical characters and take the first letters from each word and you’ll get this: “1rtrta,ortft,1rtbta,aitdbt-J.R.R.T”. Here, you have alphabetical characters, numerals, and symbols all wrapped up in a quote you’ll remember. Of course, this is just a simple example that can be made shorter or filled to the brim with other symbols you see fit. The idea is to take something that will stick in your mind and turn it into an uncrackable code.
An extra step you can take is by setting up two-factor authentication on your chosen password manager. This can be done with many types of authenticator apps, whether it be one-time passwords (OTP) set up on your smartphone or speedy biometric access via Face ID or fingerprint recognition.
Finally, you’ll also want to keep in mind what systems the password manager works on. The best services tend to work on all devices, whether it be Windows, macOS, or even Linux. Whatever the case, you’ll also find password managers will work as an app on your devices while also working as a browser extension for easy access.
Best password managers right now
While LastPass has limited the number of devices it stores passwords on to just one for free users, it’s still the easiest password manager to recommend to most. LastPass still offers Free users all the bells and whistles you’d want from a password manager, including the ability to store an unlimited number of passwords, an AES-256 bit encrypted vault, multi-factor authentication (MFA), a password generator, and will autofill passwords for you to save you time.
This isn’t even the premium plan. For $36 per year, users can access multi-device password sharing to an unlimited number of devices, 1GB of encrypted file storage, one-to-many sharing with trusted people, advanced MFA options including fingerprint authentication or 3rd-party authentication tools, the extremely handy Emergency Access features such as password inheritance, dark web monitoring, and more.
The previous free version of LastPass made it the best around, as it not only offered sharing passwords on multiple devices, be it laptops or smartphones, but also the Emergency Access features that grant one-time access to your vault to another LastPass user. Losing these features makes it a no-brainer to go on the paid premium plan, access our online accounts on multiple devices. It’s a shame you have to pay a fee, but having the ability to save and autofill passwords on the fly, receive a report with an up-to-date security score and monitor accounts for data breaches, LastPass is still among the best password managers out there.
1Password matches the $36 per year pricing of LastPass and is a long-time favorite of the Apple community. However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one password manager focused on families, this is the one for you. Fortunately, it also offers support across Windows, Android and Chrome OS as well. The service has a solid set of password creation and management tools along with some unique extras like its Travel Mode.
There are multiple 1Password options, whether it be for personal use, teams and business. That includes free family accounts, and families that allow an additional five members. Membership includes a host of security features, including AES-256 bit encryption, alerts for compromised websites and vulnerable passwords, along with a digital wallet that stores credit and debit cards, online banking information, and PayPal logins. Plus, you can use 1Password on as many computers and devices as you own.
Travel mode is great for the on-the-move professional, as it removes sensitive data from your devices when travelling. Sort of like Airplane mode that cuts off connection until you turn it back on again, but for security. Along with the added two-factor authentication, browser verification, protection from phishing and keyloggers, 1Password has you covered on all cybersecurity fronts. It’s hard to find any faults with 1Password. However, it doesn’t come with other nifty features such as LastPass’ dark web monitoring or password inheritance.
At $60 per year, Dashlane makes LastPass Premium feel like a bargain. However, beyond its incredible set of password management tools, it also includes an unlimited VPN. Dashlane's biggest claim to fame though is its Password Changer, as it allows you to change potentially hundreds of passwords with a single click. Particularly for those that are looking to switch to a password manager for the first time and update to unique and complex passwords, this is an awesome feature.
While there is a free version of Dashlane, which includes password storage for up to 50 passwords for one device, you’ll be getting your money’s worth with the premium option. The added advantage of throwing in a VPN for protection when scouring the web is a huge bonus, along with dark web monitoring for up to five email addresses, 1GB of encrypted file storage, a password generator and autofill. Like LastPass, there’s also a Secure Notes feature that saves private documents and information, and securely sends it to those you trust.
It’s popular among users of virtually every platform and browser, including Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android, along with Safari, Edge, Chrome and Firefox. If you have the cash to spare and are looking for top-of-the-line password management, Dashlane has you covered.
Keeper does exactly what it says on the tin, and is another strong contender with an excellent user interface and expansive support across all platforms. At $35 a year, you’re getting a premium password manager service that not only offers a way to store an unlimited number of passwords on multiple devices, but also a secure messaging service.
Users can save sensitive files, documents, photos and videos in a heavily encrypted digital vault, while the KeeperChat is a fantastic alternative to other messaging services such as WhatsApp or Telegram. With 256-bit AES end-to-end encryption and the ability to send and self-destruct media and messages from a private gallery, Keeper is for those who want to make sure their daily communication is kept behind a bolted door. The Emergency Access feature also lets you add up to five emergency contacts that you trust when you’re in a bind.
Keeper also has you covered for all types of multi-factor authentication, including Time-based one-time passwords (TOTP), SMS, Touch and Face ID, along with Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security keys such as YubiKey. Along with a password generator, reports on password health for each account, dark web monitoring and the ability to retain the full history of important information, such as a driver's license and passport number, Keeper is, well, a keeper.
Bitwarden is one of the more well-known password managers, as its free tier and bargain premium tier options are what make it so appealing. It's an open-source password manager that gives you unlimited passwords, syncing across all devices and the option to self-host your passwords if you want total control of your passwords. While the free tier will be enough for most users, the premium account is just $10 a year and brings with it TOTP, 2FA support with YubiKey and more.
It’s free plan is the real eye-catcher, as most users will get access to unlimited password storage and sharing to unlimited devices, a secure password generator, the ability to store private notes and credit card information, messaging platform Bitwarden Send, along with browser, mobile and desktop apps. What more could you want from a password manager?
As for the premium plan, you’ll get 1GB of encrypted file attachments, health reports for all your passwords and information, access to Bitwarden’s own TOPT authenticator, Emergency Access features and more two-step login options. Many will flock to the free version, as the premium option offers more basic features when compared to the other premium services on this list. Still, that only shows Bitwarden is offering more than enough excellent password manager features that you won’t have to spend a penny on.