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What is a password manager and why do I need one?

Last week I wrote about cyber security specifically passwords and passphrases and how using a password manager could help.

What is a password manager?

Password managers pretty much do what the label says – they allow you to store all your passwords in a virtual safe. All you need to remember is the safe’s ‘combination’ (a very, very strong password / passphrase). Every time you need a password you simply open the safe, and get out the right information.

The advantage is, you only need to remember one password so the other ones can be as obscure as you like (as long as they’re still very strong).

Some password managers will even log you into websites and applications automatically once you’ve entered the safe combination.

The disadvantage is if you forget the safe combination you may not be able to recover it and you’d need to reset all your passwords from scratch. But that’s a small inconvenience compared to safely storing and securing your passwords.

How to choose a password manager

In no particular order the things I advise clients look for when selecting a password manager are:

How much do they cost? This can be an issue for most small businesses, particularly when setting up their business. It’s worth remembering that in most cases you get what you pay for. Also, some password managers may be free for personal use but require payment if they are being used by a business.

What devices do they run on? Most password managers are device agnostic meaning they’ll run on Apple devices, both phones and computers; Android phones; and PCs. Some aren’t though – particularly the free ones so make sure you check before you buy.

Do they sync across all devices? This is usually linked to cost. A free password manager is less likely to sync to all devices.

Do they auto fill your logins. This is something I like because it saves me having to manually copy and paste passwords from the password manager but it may not be something you personally want. For most password managers you can choose whether to turn this on or not.

Do they suggest passwords? As seen in last week’s article about passwords, it can be a pain to think of strong passwords. So it’s handy if the password manager can come up with one for you.

Reputation. There’s no point getting a cheap, or free, password manager that’s been put together by a hacker! That’s just like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Look for companies that have a strong reputation both in creating their applications as well as updating them.

Suitable for small businesses. If you’re a sole trader then you’re probably quite happy using a password manager that is designed for just one user. However, if there’s more than just you, look for a password manager that supports multiple users.

Multi-factor (2 step) authentication.

Password managers that have multi-factor authentication provide an extra level of security. Basically, if you’ve got 2 factor authentication (2FA) turned on, then even if someone gets hold of your safe combination password, they’ll still need your fingerprint

The table below lists some of the more popular and reputable password managers (listed in alphabetical order) and how they rate against my criteria. If you’ve seen another password manager that you’re interested in, why not rate it against this table and see how it stacks up?

Google PasswordsLastPassiCloud Keychain1PasswordKeeper
CostFree. Free for 1 user
FreeFree trial for 30 days. Then USD$2.99/month for one userFree trial for 30 days. £1.74/month
Device AgnosticYesYesNo. Only available on Apple devicesYesYes
Auto fill logins?Yes, but can be switched offYes, but can be switched offYesYesYes
Sync across all devices?YesYesYes, if they are Apple devicesYesYes
Auto suggest passwordsYesYesYesYesYes
Suitable for small businessNoYesNoYesYes, if have > 5 employees
Multi-factor authenticationYesYesYesYesYes

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