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How to Get the Most Out of a Password Manager

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By now, you’ve probably read dozens of articles about how important strong passwords are. If you use passwords a lot but haven’t taken the time to strengthen them, then it might be time to start using a password manager.

Password managers have become a popular method for the average Internet user to keep track of their passwords. If you want to use one, it’s important to know how they work, what the possible disadvantages are, and pro tips for how to make the most of one.

How do password managers work?

A password manager is an application that stores and organizes passwords. You add passwords and usernames for your various accounts and label them so they’re easy to find. You usually need a master password to unlock access to your password database. Once you open up your password manager, you can usually find whichever account you’re looking for, copy the password, and paste it into the password field of your sign-in credentials. Some will even auto-populate your login information. 

Some of the most popular password managers are:

Password managers are often software and applications you can download on your computer or mobile device. Most web browsers also have a built-in password management feature. If you want to start using a password manager, downloading a separate app is usually better than using the default manager on your browser, as you don’t need a master password to unlock the passwords saved on your browser.

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Is using a password manager safe?

Know that your information will never be 100% private or secure online. But there are ways to mitigate risks, and a password manager is one of them. Before you start using a password manager, you should know what some of the risks and disadvantages of using them are.

Do password managers have disadvantages?

While password managers have several advantages for privacy and security, there are downsides to using them:

  • All passwords are in one place: All of your sensitive data is kept in one central place, so if anyone ever happens to get access to it, they’ll have your passwords for everything.
  • Risk of no backup: If the company that runs the password manager has a server breakdown, you can’t access your passwords and you may not be able to recover them. You can keep your copy of your data on a disk drive or in the cloud, but you’d need to encrypt these storage areas somehow to make them effective. 
  • Don’t guarantee the security of your device: If you’re running a password manager on a device that is easily exploited, it doesn’t matter that you’re using a password manager. Your device might become infected with malware that can log your master password as you type it in, giving hackers full access to your password database.
  • Some have weaker encryption: Some password managers have weaker encryption standards than others, making them more vulnerable to attack. Check what kind of encryption the password manager uses before choosing one. 
  • You might lose or forget your master password: Your master password should be strong, a random series of numbers, letters, and punctuation marks. Obviously, you won’t remember this password right away and you’ll have to write it down and keep it somewhere safe. If you lose your master password or forget it, you lose access to all your other passwords.
  • Using a password manager on work computers: If you use a password manager on your work computer, the administrator who has access to it can access your passwords as well. Once you start using a password manager, be careful about where you install it.

Tips for how to get the most out of your password manager

Now that you know the risks of using a password manager, you can learn how to avoid some of the downsides and make the most of using one:

  • Sync across devices: Password managers are more effective when you can access them from almost anywhere. Look for one that allows you to sync your password database across devices.
  • Generate more complex passwords: Generally, password managers generate passwords for you. They’re a string of random letters, numbers, or punctuation marks, however you can change these settings. It’s advised to set your password generator to at least 16 characters (the more the better) and to incorporate uppercase and lowercase letters. Don’t try to come up with random passwords on your own, because your brain isn’t as good at being random as an algorithm is.
  • Label them differently: When you create new entries in your password vault, try to give them somewhat ambiguous names. If you store a password for your Starbucks rewards account, for example, don’t name it “Starbucks,” name it something like “coffee.” Don’t get too vague, however, as you still need to remember what each account is.
  • Keep the master password somewhere safe: After you create your master password and write it down, keep it somewhere safe and don’t leave it lying around. Also, make sure your master password is unique from any other password you’ve used before.
  • Securely send passwords to others: Some password managers, like LastPass, let you securely send passwords to other users. Take advantage of this feature so you never have to type a password in an email or SMS message ever again.
  • Have a recovery strategy: Before you start using a password manager, plan what you’ll do if the app stops working or the company’s servers crash. Some companies have recovery options in place, so look into those before you start using a password manager.
  • Delete old and unused accounts: Eventually, your password database will fill up with tons of passwords, many of which are for old or unused accounts. Every so often, go through the accounts saved in your password manager to see if you still use them, and delete the accounts if you don’t.
  • Get the paid version for more features: Most password managers have paid and free versions of their applications. Usually, the free version works well enough for what you need it for. To maximize the potential of your password manager, however, you might consider investing in the paid version.

Password manager power tips

A password manager is an excellent privacy and security resource, but you have to know how to use one to reap the most benefits. Keep these power tips in mind and use your password manager wisely.

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