The average user has anywhere between 60 and 100 online accounts – think online banking, social media accounts, shopping websites, email addresses – each secured with a password. Not many of us (if any!) can remember that many different and complex passwords, so we usually choose one of two options: we apply similar passwords and password permutations across several accounts, or choose one simple, easy-to-remember password for everything. Sound like you? While this might be convenient, it leaves your accounts vulnerable to hackers. Enter a password manager: an application that can create and remember strong passwords for all of your online accounts to help keep them secure.
Why Should I Use a Password Manager?
Think of your password as a lock on a door. A more complex password will give your account a higher level of security, as there are more elements to crack. Having a simple password such as 123456, ABCDEF or 000000 is the equivalent of leaving your front door unlocked and inviting intruders to walk right in.
In a perfect world, users should have long and complicated passwords for each of their accounts. But with such busy lives and so many accounts, it’s often beyond us to remember that many strings of letters and numbers. That’s why using a password manager can be a good idea.
Wait... What Is a Password Manager?
A password manager is an online subscription service that is the custodian of all your passwords. When you sign up to a service, you can link the accounts you want to secure with stronger passwords and it will automatically log you in to each account on your computer, smartphone or tablet. These services can be accessed on browsers and with an app, so they can work on any device you log in on.
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How Do Password Managers Work?
Not only will it create different, complex passwords for each of your accounts, it will remember and change them regularly. Having a unique password for each account is especially important, as often the first thing a hacker will do if they compromise one account is to attempt to access your other accounts using the same password. If you’ve doubled up on passwords, this could leave you exposed.
Password managers can also enable multi-factor authentication to make your accounts even more secure by messaging a unique code to your smartphone each time you log in on a new device to confirm it’s actually you attempting to gain access. All you have to remember is a single master password for the password manager account – passwords within the manager are encrypted with government agency-level security which can only be unlocked with that master password.
What Does a Complex Password Look Like?
If you want to create your own secure password rather than using a password manager, you need a string that uses a mixture of different characters, numbers, symbols and punctuation. One way of creating these unique passwords is by taking memorable phrases and quotes but substituting letters with numbers and symbols. Another method is using letters and numbers that form memorable shapes when typed on the keyboard. For example, when typing “QAZSEDCFT”, the keys you strike form the shape of the letter “W”.
Popular Password Managers
LastPass: Works across all platforms with an app or through a browser. There is a limited free version but subscriptions start at $4.50 a month for unlimited access across all devices. LastPass also has a family account for $6 a month that offers the same features for up to six users.
Dashlane: Syncs across all devices and all main platforms via apps and on browsers and also includes a VPN (virtual private network) for secure connections on public wi-fi. It has a bare-bones free service, as well as unlimited personal and family plans for $US3.99 ($AU5.33) and $US5.99 ($AU8) a month respectively.
1Password: Supports all platforms but favours Mac and iOS. It includes a travel mode that can remove sensitive data from your device when crossing borders and restore them with the click of a button. It starts at $US2.99 ($3.99) for a personal unlimited account and $US4.99 ($6.66) for families with up to five users.
Keeper: Works on all platforms and allows biometric Face ID and fingerprint access on Mac, iOS, Windows and Android. Keeper also has monitoring to alert you if your email or your password is shared on the Dark Web. It starts at $49.99 per year for an unlimited personal account or $109.99 annually for unlimited family use with five accounts.
Bitwarden: Works on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Linux with support for the widest range of browsers. It also supports multi-factor authentication and biometric login with fingerprint or Face ID. There is a feature-rich free option available, as well as premium access for $US10($13.35) a year and $US40($53.42) annually for families with up to six users.