We’re just gonna say it: Creating strong, complex passwords — and then actually remembering what those passwords are — has become a huge pain in the behind. The well-known advice is that you shouldn’t use the same password for everything because it’s not safe, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying as you’re mentally shifting through every password and password variation you’ve ever created as you try to log into a bank account or online shop.
This warning to use a different password for each site is definitely true though: According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, 81% of hacking related breaches involved the misuse of stolen or weak credentials — AKA crappy, overused passwords. And we probably don’t have to tell you this, but having your money or identity stolen isn’t exactly a good time either.
But even if you do manage to come up with Olympic-level strength passwords, remembering your complex, unique passwords for dozens of different sites is nearly impossible, especially when password requirements sound more like the recipe for a potion. Uppercase letter, number, symbol, eye of newt, etc.
So before you know it, you’ve used up your three guesses and you’re locked out because you can’t remember your genius combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. And now you need to create a new amazing password again. So you try something you think you’ll remember and just like that, you get the alert that “new password cannot be the same as old password.”
Enter: password managers. AKA your new best friend to help keep your online accounts safe and keep you from tossing your device across the room every time you need to remember or create a new password.
What does a password manager really do?
The best password managers are essentially a way to safely store all your logins and passwords in a safe place.
All you have to do is remember one master password and then your password manager will autofill the rest for you, plus more security stuff you probably didn’t even think about.
In other words, a password manager is like a secure list of passwords in your phone’s notes (or a notebook, if you’re old-school), except losing your phone or notebook won’t mean that your entire life is about to be hacked.
Password managers can be apps on your mobile phone, plugins in your browser, or desktop software you install.
Some will also help you create, not just store, some super secure passwords that a hacker wouldn’t be able to guess so you don’t have to keep thinking of variations based on your pets’ or kids’ names.
The best password managers will also allow you to secure your devices — like your Kindle or Apple Watch — and even your photos and other private documents that you won’t want easily accessible on your computer or smartphone. Think of it as a form of personal encryption to add even more security to your digital life.
Things to consider when choosing a password manager:
- Do you want passwords to be remembered on your phone and laptop? If so, you’ll need to make sure the password manager allows syncing on multiple devices. (As you’ll see, most free versions other than LastPass do not allow more than one device.)
- Are you storing passwords just for personal use or do you need to share with a group? Some password managers will allow you to share logins with colleagues or family without actually telling them what the password is. That will allow you to give them access to a site or platform you all use — and remove their access if you need to — without having to worry that they can share the password with people you don’t approve. Others will allow you to set up a family account so that you and your spouse or children can share passwords easily.
- Two-factor authentication: Using the Google Authenticator app, an external device, text message, or something similar, does the password manager require a second form of insurance to make sure that it’s actually you trying to log in? Without this, if someone gets ahold of your master password, they have access to all of your stuff.
- Emergency contacts: If you forget your master password, you need to make sure you’re not completely screwed. Many password managers are equipped with emergency contacts, which are basically the password version of writing someone into your will. This is where you give a trusted friend, family member, or boss access to your master password in the event that you can’t provide it.
What are some of the best password managers on the market?
Interested in employing a password manager to help make your online life a little easier? We’ve sifted through a whole bunch of password manager programs out there so you don’t have to. Below, we’re listing six of the best password managers and exactly what each plan offers, so you can easily find the one that best fits your individual needs. All prices listed are for the year.