Many tech professionals recommend the use of a password manager to ensure better online security, but many users are still puzzled about what exactly a password manager is. In this buyer’s guide, all the FAQs surrounding the usage and reliability of password managers or keepers will be explained in detail, as well as some helpful tips on how to select the best service that will suit your needs and your budget.
A password manager is simply a software application that people can use to save, automate and create secure passwords for their online accounts. It provides both convenience and security to the users so they can better maximize and enjoy worry-free browsing over the internet.
Though it may sound like a new trend in online security applications, password managers or keepers have already been widely used as a built-in feature in web browsers. These password keepers are kept active while users browse from web to web, and whenever password-protected pages (like social media accounts and online community logs) are visited and the users enter their passwords, a message from the browser would pop out asking if they would like them to save or remember their passwords for those sites. And that password-saving feature is the first form of password managers to be introduced online.
These browser password managers, however, have flaws. They may be free to use and are automatically available to all the registered users, but they don’t provide optimum protection from hacking and other forms of data theft. In the recent years, there have been confirmed reports of data breaches involving the hacking of browser password keepers. These data breaches are a big deal because the hackers are able to access the browser users’ personal information from the websites where they’d used the hacked passwords.
Right from the very start, security experts have already warned users about the risk of using these password keepers; however, majority of browser users still make use of this password-saving feature no matter how many times they hear news of online data breaches. But why exactly do they use these password managers? The answer is simple—convenience. By using password keepers, the users no longer feel obliged to memorize every single password they use for every website they are registered to. Also, password keepers lessen the stressful occasions of having to go through the painstaking procedures of password retrieval whenever they forget their passwords.
So, in order for users to enjoy the convenience of password keepers and still feel secure while browsing online, many third-party services developed their own high-security password managers as a solution to online data breach risks. These sophisticated password managers work similarly like the regular browser password keepers, but offer a lot more features like password-generation and encryption to provide a solution to another problem—weak, highly guessable passwords—which leads us to the next question.
Aside from hacking the built-in password keepers in browsers, an easier way to hijack user accounts is to simply guess the passwords that they are using. Surprisingly, most people still use passwords that are based on information that can be readily available to hackers such as birth dates, anniversary dates, children’s names, pets’ names, favorite items, and guessable number strings like 12345 or 55555 and the like. To make the issue worse, many of these people tend to reuse the same password for a number of different websites. If plenty of users still continue with this kind of password habit, many more will fall victim to data theft and other cyber crimes in the future.
That’s where Password Managers come in handy. These programs not only save and automate the use of passwords for every registered website, but they also generate complex passwords and store them in high-security locations. This feature helps the users to avoid using weak passwords by providing complex ones that are difficult to guess by hackers. And since these programs save and automate the passwords, the users won’t be bothered by the pain of memorizing each one of those complex passwords.
To put simply, users experience a higher level of security and convenience by enjoying the following features:
These are the common features of Password Managers, but there are some that offer extras depending on the product packages availed by the users. And this leads us to another important question.
As mentioned earlier, Password Managers can provide different features depending on the product package. Commonly users aren’t charged any amount while enrolled on a trial period (usually one month), then the service providers will automatically start charging monthly or annual fees after the trials expire and the users don’t opt out.
However, it is important to know that not all services require any form of payment. There are paid services that provide high quality password protection and excellent user experience. On the other hand, there are also free services that can provide the same level of security like that of the paid services but may require some skills to make them work properly.
Paid services may cost users a range of $12 to $40 in annual fees or monthly fees of up to $3. Free services may cost nothing for their basic password protection service packages, but some may charge users for up to $12 a year for extra premium services. Also some of the best free services require not an amount of money but an amount of technical skills to customize and operate the password manager.
To know which kind of service is best to use, read on to the next question.
Like any other product or service, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to Password Managers. The best service for any user depends on their level of security needs, their paying capacity, and their level of technical skills.
To better demonstrate how to decide on the selection process, the user types can be divided into four:
For Type 1 users, the best services for them are premium paid services that use strong security encryption and can be used on different devices for easy sharing.
For Type 2 users, it would be best to consider using services that provide the basic features for free but only charge a considerably small amount for premium add-on features.
For Type 3 users, Password Managers with highly secure DIY programs that provide free services for both basic and premium features would be their best option.
For Type 4 users, it’s most practical for them to choose free services that provide only the basic features—no add-ons and no skill requirements.
This breakdown of user types may not be completely exhaustive but is adequate enough to give users a better idea on how they should choose the right features and services. The Password Managers from different service providers may also use different interface technologies that can affect the level of user experience.
What’s most important is that people should research about and consider availing of the best secure Password Manager they can afford. These Password Managers provide better protection from the various forms of data breach and theft compared to using the less secure, unreliable browser password keepers.