If you use any sort of service on the internet, from social media to email, chances are you have a variety of usernames and passwords. And as we all know, these can be difficult to remember, especially when those passwords have capital letters, numbers, and/or special characters.
To remedy this, you should consider using a password manager. This handy tool provides you with password storage, so you can keep all your log-in information in a single place. And in terms of password protection, these apps strike a great balance between security and convenience.
In this article, we’ll explain how and why you should use one of these handy apps before we dive into 5 password manager reviews so you can find the best one for your needs.
How to make sure your password is secure
Before using a password manager, you need to make sure that your passwords are actually secure.
As you may have heard, using the same password across all of your accounts and services is a bad idea. This opens your accounts up to data and identity theft as well as monetary theft if you use the same information for online banking.
Keep in mind that there are two main ways that hackers break into online accounts without you mistakenly giving them consent, such as with email phishing attacks.
- The first method is typically manually typing in various letters, numbers, and symbols. This is based on research of your online persona, so using any personally verifiable information in your password, such as a pet's name or a child's birthday, is not secure and can be guessed by hackers.
- More advanced hackers will also use something called a brute force attack to get your password. This occurs when a hacker uses a computer program to run through every possible permutation of numbers, letters, and symbols that could be a part of your password until they come across the right combination.
To avoid these issues, make sure that your password is longer and more complex than is required by many online services. Creating a long and complex unique password that is not based on personally identifiable information and is varied across online accounts and services will go a long way in keeping you more secure online.
The benefits of using a password manager app
1. One place to store them all
If you have the same passwords across all accounts, and they don't use any capital letters or special characters, then you should change them with the above information in mind. When you do so, you can save the new passwords in a manager app so you can access all of your information in a single password vault.
2. Database encryption
A password manager app allows you to encrypt your password database with a master password. It also lets you generate random passwords when needed. When using this service, you'll only ever have to remember the master password, and your passwords won't be accessible by anyone not using your computer.
3. Data leak protection
A password manager app is also useful in the case of data leaks. Every year, numerous companies announce that they've lost customer data to malicious entities, including account and password information.
Unfortunately, this type of leak can lead to hackers trying out your username and password combination on other online accounts and services where you have sensitive data. This can potentially harm your financial data, because unencrypted passwords can easily be used to log in to your email account and gain access to other websites using password reset links.
Why you shouldn't use a browser-based password manager app
Whether you use Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or another web browser, virtually every major browser has a built-in password manager functionality these days. However, this feature isn’t the same as using a dedicated password manager app for a number of reasons.
For one, most browser-based password managers, such as those in Chrome and Internet Explorer, do not allow you to encrypt your passwords. This means that a hacker who compromises your Google or Microsoft account can easily retrieve all of your password data and hack into every single one of your online accounts.
Firefox's password manager app is the only major browser-based password manager that allows for encryption with a master password. However, it lacks the functionality of a dedicated password manager app, which includes cross-platform use because it doesn’t sync to iOS devices. It also doesn’t generate random passwords and doesn’t offer two-factor authentication options.
What are the differences between a free and paid password manager app?
While there are certainly use cases for a free password manager app, we recommend that you use a paid password manager app, particularly if you conduct any sort of business online or do online banking.
This is because the potential cost of a breach is catastrophic, and free password managers tend to be less secure than paid ones. In fact, according to a Kaspersky Lab study, small and medium-sized businesses risk an average cost of $117,000 due to data breaches. On top of that, 60% of those businesses end up going out of business within 6 months of a data breach .
Even if you only use a password manager app for personal use, free options tend to have a number of limitations versus paid password managers. These include:
- Limited encrypted file storage size, meaning you can only store a minimum amount of encrypted data on them)
- Basic user interfaces that you'll have to learn how to use on your own
- The inability to sync password data in between devices
- The lack of functionality to make an online backup
- The inability to share passwords in a secure way with other users on other devices
If none of this type of functionality is important to you, and you only need to manage passwords for a small number of personal accounts on a single device, then a free password manager app may be adequate.
Top 5 password manager apps
There are a host of different password manager apps available on the market, and some are certainly better than others. Others also cost more or offer different features (often related to the cost). With that in mind, here are the 5 best password manager apps you should consider for password safety and overall cybersecurity.
Like its namesake suggests, 1Password
is well known for using a single password to store all of your passwords for various online accounts and services. While there is no free version of 1Password, the cloud-based software does come with a 30-day free trial for all plans, which include both personal and business use. This is a perfect opportunity to try out the service and see if it’s right for you.
On the personal plan level, there are individual and family plans priced at $2.99 and $4.99 per month, respectively. The individual plan has several key features. Chief among these are dedicated apps for Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, and Chrome OS, as well as the ability to seamlessly migrate passwords between computer and mobile devices on these operating systems with just your master password.
Additionally, this plan allows you to store unlimited passwords and up to 1GB of documents, and also provides two-factor authentication in order to better secure your passwords. The family plan offers all of this while allowing a master user to add up to 5 accounts total. This can be a great way for family members to securely share a Netflix password, for example.
For business users, 1Password offers team and business plans, which are priced at $3.99 and $7.99 per month. Aside from the features offered in personal plans, both of these add unlimited item storage and admin controls.
Because of its higher price point, the business plan builds upon the features of the other plans and adds VIP support, custom security controls, and an activity log so the master user can track any changes made to any passwords or items within the 1Password account. This is the ideal option for small or medium-sized businesses, and our overall top pick for the best password app for any user.
In general, the best things in life are free, and Bitwarden
is one of them. This password manager app differentiates itself from the rest by offering a free open source solution for individual users, as well as a premium account for $10 per year and a team account for business use at $5 per month.
Because its individual account is free, it does have some limitations. These include limited support for iOS and a lack of a digital legacy features, which would allow you to designate a beneficiary to your passwords in case of death.
However, none of this stops Bitwarden from being a strong contender for the best password manager app, and it is easily the best free password manager on our list.
Along with allowing you to self-host your password data on your own server, Bitwarden has unlimited device syncing and two-factor authentication, a staple of many of the password manager apps. Overall, if you need a free or affordable open-source solution to securely store your password, then Bitwarden is a strong option.
is arguably the most well-known password manager app out there, and for good reason. Although it does offer a free option, it is quite limited relative to BitWarden because it only allows 1 user and offers no options for tech support or sharing items. However, where LastPass really shines is in its premium option, which is billed at $36 per year.
LastPass Premium gives you the option to designate an emergency contact who can access your account via email just in case. This can be particularly helpful if you've forgotten your master password or cannot otherwise access your LastPass account. While you don’t want to share logins, it can be helpful to have a designated recovery contact.
Additionally, LastPass premium provides priority customer service and advanced multi-factor authentication features, which include fingerprint authentication. The premium account also offers one-to-many sharing so you can share your password with many people across different devices if you want to share account logins for, say, Netflix within your family, or a productivity app among your team at work.
On top of all this, LastPass has a great user interface and intuitive access controls. While the free version is useful, the premium version’s key features really push it over the edge as one of the best password manager apps available.
Before we get to its features, it’s worth noting that Dashlane
isn’t as affordable as the other options on our list. The premium plan is priced at $5 a month, which is billed annually at $60 a year, and the free version only provides storage for up to 50 passwords.
However, where it more than makes up for this in its comprehensive security features. As part of your subscription, you receive a virtual private network
(VPN) account, as well as the password manager to make the application even more secure.
While some users may not need the VPN add-on, it is a great option for those would like to keep their IP address invisible along with keeping their passwords secure.
5. Keeper Security
While it is still well within the realm of a password manager, Keeper Security
offers significantly more than the other password manager apps. If you are just looking for a password manager app for personal use, this may not be the best choice.
However, if secure private messaging and being able to monitor the dark web sound appealing to you, then Keeper Security is the right solution. It has the most robust features of any password manager app available by far, and it’s priced similarly to Dashlane.
Although it is not an easy application to use, its features allow it to stand above the pack in terms of data security. For example, it’s the only password manager app to offer a feature like BreachWatch, which flags passwords that may have been compromised in a data breach.
If this is the type of security you need, then Keeper Security is a solution you should absolutely consider.
While the most secure password manager apps vary in both price and features, it is imperative that you use one to protect your online accounts and services. If we were going to pick one to suggest, we would have to go with LastPass.
If you choose to continue to use a browser-based password manager, or none at all, then you will run the risk of losing your personal information through hacking or other means - and it can have devastating consequences.
About the Author
Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.