Online security has been a huge topic of discussion — that much is evident from the sheer breadth of passcodes you likely have within your arsenal. However, although passwords serve as a convenient and (often) effective means of preventing your identity and data from being stolen, remembering them all can prove difficult without having to refer to a multitude of Post-It notes haphazardly place around your computer’s monitor.
The right password manager should do more than just lock your passcodes within an encrypted vault in order to minimize your vulnerability against attacks. Many modern password managers now allow you to sync your Web-based passwords across devices and change them with a mere click, while giving you the option to automatically sign in to your favorite sites and granting you improved security in all facets of your data.
Below are a few of our current favorites, though we still highly recommend you lock your computer whenever you step away from it. Trust us, your co-workers can be cruel if left unattended. Damn you, Brad!
Related: Six tips to bombproof your password
What does a password manager do?
Basic password managers have just one function; they save your login information for different sites so you don’t have to. This is a feature available in any modern Web browser. While such a feature may be handy, this type of password management isn’t going to do you any good – in fact, it could even make you more vulnerable, since browsers are often anything but secure. (Note: Firefox‘s password manager solution is known as a quality, free option.)
The type of password managers you should look into have a few far more helpful features. First, they encrypt all your login information and other types of data that you might often hand over to a website, like your address, or bank or credit card information. This allows you to not only keep your personal data secure, but organize the dizzying array of passwords that many of us have to manage.
Second, many password managers generate unique, complicated passwords that are extremely difficult to crack. Through these two functions, password managers ensure that you have the strongest possible password, and do the hard task of “remembering” your passwords for you. Any password manager you use ideally performs both of these security functions.
Many quality password managers also include password ranking, telling you which of your passwords are weak and which are strong, and giving you the ability to easily change the puny ones out for something more robust.
How do password managers work?
Without getting into technical jargon, password managers save your information in an encrypted file, which is only accessible through the use of a “master password.” By doing this, all of your various online services are secured, but you only have to remember one password. In turn, it is extremely important for you to make sure your master password is extremely high quality.
Are there different types of password managers?
Yes – quite a few, actually. A few of the most popular include desktop applications, which often store your personal information on an encrypted local file (as opposed to on an external server); Web and cloud-based apps, which store your information on their servers, and “token” managers, which require the use of a secure USB flash drive or other physical, external device, which must be used in conjunction with an app. Many password managers are a combination of these categories. There are also quite a few password managers for smartphones, many of which come with paid password manager apps for your computer.