Learn everything you need to know about the security features and usability of password managers.
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A password manager is more than just a password keeper — it’s a secure vault in which you keep the keys to your wallet, your data, your entire digital life. Gone are the days when a password manager was just a nifty convenience. Today it’s a necessary security tool, protecting your login credentials, passwords, and, in some cases, credit card numbers and more.
Hackers have plenty of automated tools that can try literally thousands of combinations every minute, and those combinations usually derive from lists of commonly used passwords, dictionary words, or perhaps details from your own life (like a pet’s name). This is why your passwords cannot be common or predictable. And of course, one password should not be used across multiple accounts — that would create a single skeleton key that gets into all your data. If it were to fall into the wrong hands, it would mean trouble with a capital T.
With a password manager, every one of your accounts can have its own unique, impossible-to-memorize password, while you only need to remember one master password — the one that gets you into your password manager. Once you start using one, you’ll quickly realize that a free password manager is one of the most useful digital tools ever developed.
Not all password managers are created equally. Most will have the basic security features needed for proper password management, such as weak password flagging, password generators, and 2-factor authentication. And while these are indeed critical features, some password managers go the extra mile by including more robust security features such as managing passwords for apps as well as sites and sending you alerts when any websites with which you’re associated have been breached. When sizing up password managers, keep the following security features in mind to ensure your password vault protects you fully.
To make sure you are you, certain apps and sites — and all decent password managers — use either 2FA (2-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication). 2FA requires two modes of proof of your identity, such as a bank card and a PIN. MFA uses two or more modes to prove your identity, and the modes can be categorized as “something you know” (such as a password), “something you have” (such as a security key), and “something you are” (such as your fingerprint). The login credentials must each come from different categories for 2FA or MFA to effectively work. Two passwords would not constitute a 2FA login, for instance.
Password managers use 2FA and MFA to enhance security further, and you will find some, that include fingerprint sign-in functions.
Make sure your password manager comes with a secure password generator. Many of them do, and you do not want to be without this feature. Gone are the days of QWERTY123. We all need to use long, complex passwords. They should be near-impossible to remember, and they need to be singularly unique for each account. Instead of agonizing over it each time, you can simply turn to a password generator for a perfectly complex password instantly. Check out our own free Avast Random Password Generator and experience how easy it can be to get complex.
This is an important feature, as we all use multiple devices — laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones. Choose a password manager with secure device syncing across all your devices. That way, if you lock up your Facebook app on your laptop, it will be so on your phone too. Poor sync function will have detrimental impact on the usability and effectiveness of your password manager.
This feature is terrifically useful, and not all password managers include it. Those that do offer instant, automatic updates for sites that have been hacked. That way, before the hacker has time to even notice the password he or she stole from you, it’s already been changed to something else super-complex. Another method is to use the free Avast Hack Check tool to see if any of your passwords have been compromised.
Plenty of password managers feature the same usability functions, such as password autofill, the function that plugs in your saved passwords for you so you don’t have to remember them. Also, just about all password managers feature a browser menu of all your logins, for easy and instant entry into any of your accounts. But then there are some specialty features that different brands of password managers include. When selecting a password manager, be sure to choose the one that has the most special features in line with your needs.
A key feature found in the best password managers is a browser extension. This is software that modifies your browser functionality with additional features. In the case of password managers, the browser extension should aim to make your online experience both easier and more secure at the same time.
So many of us access our accounts through the corresponding app, yet many password managers are created to only function with websites. The more premium password managers understand this and accommodate apps as well as sites.
1Password is a great example of password manager with app password management.
Not to be confused with cryptowallets, which are used exclusively to send and receive cryptocurrency, certain password managers include a digital wallet feature. These store your credit card numbers and other payment details, and make for quick and easy checkouts from any online marketplace. Dashlane and LastPass each offer a digital wallet feature.
Some password managers allow you to designate emergency contacts. This can be a useful feature as it allows family members or coworkers to access important accounts in case of emergency.
Related to this, some password managers include family plans, which allow you to share the password manager with other users for specific accounts. This can come in handy in the home or workplace.
Dashlane offers a third-party access feature.
LastPass offers family sharing at its premium level.
Now what if you have a Windows computer and an iPhone, and you want to protect both? Several password managers, including Avast Passwords, offer multi-platform solutions that allow syncing between platforms and devices, including mobile apps.
Some password managers require you to upgrade to their premium service in order to enable multi-platform syncing. Some only work with the Android OS, some only work with the macOS, and some accommodate all. When researching your password manager, make sure it will work with the platforms and devices you need.
Now that you have a working understanding of password managers, I suggest you start your journey to find the right one for you. Believe me, you will notice the difference — the online experience becomes so much more pleasant when you are not spending half your time just logging in to various sites.
The storage of your most sensitive info requires an online tool that is both secure and easy-to-use. Whatever you call it — a password keeper, password locker, password vault — give your digital world the security it deserves and start using one.