Key Codes: The 6 Best Password Managers
Edward Snowden helped show us that nothing is safe online. The internet is a hungry beast ready to devour the unwary. The first key to helping keep yourself safe in the treacherous waters of the web is to have a good password for all your accounts and never reuse your password or login information on multiple sites. The problem is, you would need to keep a notebook for the innumerable passwords required, which defeats the purpose. Rather than log everything in a ledger, you can use a password manager which will store your passwords and spit them out on demand.
Selecting the right service to manage your passwords is more than overwhelming. There’s too many to choose from, and sometimes they’re as dangerous and sketchy as any hacker. To find one that is secure, they should have blind storage (so that even the company can’t access your information), be capable of syncing up with all your devices, have NSA-grade encryption, and an easy interface so that even grandma can handle it without calling you up for tech support. So that you can spend less time worrying about security and more time enjoying cute cat videos, here’s the 6 best password managers for anyone.
Pro: Not a browser plugin or extension
Con: Steep learning curve
Digital Underground: You can get the free version of many password managers, but to leverage the most out of them, you’re going to be paying a fee, possibly for the rest of your online existence. KeePass is a truly free, truly open-source option that doesn’t shirk any of the security you’d get from its competitors. It does suffer from a few issues, but for the nonexistent price, you’re getting way more than you pay for.
Whatever operating system you use, you can find a KeePass version that will fit it. This is thanks to the open-source ability of any programmer to get the source code and modify it however they see fit. In addition to being able to work on any box, anywhere, you don’t even need to install it locally. Put it on a flash drive and run it on any computer you jack into.
Where KeePass gets a mite dodgy is in syncing. It works locally on your computer or drive, meaning it isn’t able to seamlessly hop from smartphone to tablet to desktop through the cloud. You’ll need to physically use it on each device. True, for the tech junkie, this is a problem, but you can use plugins and ports to sync through Dropbox if you so choose. As it is installed on your machine(s), it will not only remember your online passwords, but any passwords you use locally. Great for a shared box or communal computer.
Having an open-source password manager means that tons of code monkeys out there have made a massive range of accessories that can hook right in to KeePass to completely change how it works. It can generate password reports, sync up with your Google Drive account, comb through your email, backup data, create a virtual wallet, or tell you that you look snappy in that bike helmet. A huge range of utilities is available, and the sky is the limit for future updates and upgrades.
You’re going to need to be computer savvy to get the most out of KeePass. Like Linux, it needs some TLC to run properly and isn’t as easy nor as simple as any other services you’ll come across. Includes full Twofish and AES encryption algorithms for security. [Purchase: $Freemium]
Pro: Encryption occurs on devices, not in the cloud
Con: Still undergoing software integration changes as of publication
Super Secure: PasswordBox is a bit of a double-edged sword. It has been bought out by Intel Security, which gives it a lot of power and unbreakable safety. The problem is that there’s still a few bugs being worked out. While this won’t compromise the safety of your information, it can make the application a little dicey to operate. Also, the future of tech support as well as software updates is questionable. That being said, the transition seems to be nearly over, and the Box is still head and shoulders above much of the competition.
In working with Intel Security the people at PasswordBox are making promises of future advancements like facial recognition or fingerprinting to help verify your identity. If this “True Key” system rolls out the way it is expected, hitching your wagon to PasswordBox will give you one of the tightest, most unhackable password managers out there. Curren encryption is true AES-256 and handled entirely on your computer, not in the cloud on an external server. When it syncs, it goes from one machine to the other fully shored up and locked down, preventing anyone from cracking your code.
Upon landing on a website, PasswordBox will immediately pop up so that you can input the login information you want to use with its autofill feature. A digital wallet handles your transactions securely, keeping your banking information, credit card numbers, or PayPal data garbled as it is transmitted. A legacy locker allows you to bequeath all of your passwords to a surviving person so that nothing is lost after you pass on.
The password generator has the most options of anything out there, allowing you to choose a length as well as characters and pronunciation. Syncing works well no matter which device you choose, and we found the browser extension to be the most accurate and easiest of all the choices. Just don’t expect too many bells and whistles. This is meant to handle passwords and do it well. [Purchase: $11.99/year]
Pro: Huge following with extensive infrastructure
Con: Interface can be awkward
Plugged In: LastPass is the most ubiquitous password manager around these days, and it has earned its reputation as one of the best. It shows its age sometimes when the password generator breaks down, it fails to recognize a login field, or it saves a password but not a username for a particular site, but with a little work, these problems are easily remedied.
Despite a few clunky parts, LastPass is generally incredible at what it does. It will generate and store passwords with a couple of clicks, allowing you to make handy changes like creating a pronounceable password or adding special characters should that be required. A couple of checkboxes is all it takes to get off and running.
LastPass runs almost exclusively as a browser extension and can handle any of the major players, from FireFox to Opera to Chrome. If you tend to browser swap, all you need is the little red star plugin and it will have all your data ready to go. Just remember your master password, since LastPass won’t be able to save you if it goes missing. Keep in mind that everything goes into the cloud with LastPass with no sole device option available. If that makes you nervous, seek other options.
If a website in your vault gets hacked, LastPass will alert you so that you can change your password immediately. It will run audits on all of the information you have and let you know where to make changes. It also has a backup feature for sensitive documents that you can’t afford to lose. Tack on a digital wallet with multiple entries available, and you’ve got a damn smart security blanket.
Both the tried-and-true age of LastPass and the support of high-powered, high-profile clients make it more secure and “too big to fail” in some ways, so you can be assured of top notch service and the latest in infrastructure. [Purchase: $12/year]
Pro: Elegant and simple for easy changes
Swift Swap: Friendly as your ever-exuberant neighbor and easy like Sunday morning, Dashlane is the kindest choice for anyone who is technologically disinclined. It has far and away the most forgiving interface of any other option on the market. Like a well-organized sock drawer, everything is in its place without the need to dig through sub-menus and esoteric registries.
It might be the new kid on the block, but that relative newness just means it isn’t trying to retrofit old ideas into a new system. It uses two-factor authentication via Google Authenticator and AES-256 encryption for the highest level of consumer-grade protection available.
Dashlane can work locally or as an extension to your browser should you decide you want to share your passwords across multiple devices, or keep them saved on a single machine. You will need the Dashlane app if you intend to use it on an iOS or Android device: The browser extension alone shan’t be sufficient. That means ponying up the dough for the premium service.
Not only will Dashlane keep your passwords under lock and key, it will automatically search for weak or duplicate passwords and offer to change them. This keeps your data from being hung out in the wind just because somewhere you thought your kid’s name was a good password choice. It will even scan through your email to see if you have sent out any sensitive data which could be accessed by the digital monsters that haunt the corners of the internet.
For large sites, such as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and PayPal, Dashlane offers the ability to change out all of your passwords with just a click. The process is automated so a couple of buttons is all that stand between you and renewed security. Dashlane will change everything in a moment, then save the new information so there’s no need for hunting around your vault for the new data.
Combined with their password manager are a few other time-saving options like an automated form fill in which you can save multiple identities. Choose who you want to be on that website and it will slap in all of the salient information. Professionals can share a few company logins and passwords across their team, and a digital wallet tracks your purchases, saves screenshots of each, and can keep your credit cards on file for lots of one-click shopping. [Purchase: $40/year]
Pro: Simple installation and fee structure
Con: No two-factor authentication
Seamless: 1Password takes a strong “less is more” attitude when it comes to how their software is used. They feel that it should operate on a plug-and-play basis, which is attractive to those who loathe computers, and those who don’t want to muck about with a lot of features. That isn’t to say the features aren’t there, they just tend to run in the background.
Rather than a subscription fee each year, 1Password asks for a single payment of $50, which is only slightly more than you would pay for a single year with some competitors. Once installed, it works on any operating system, with apps across platforms, so it can hop onto a Chromebook or go from your home computer to gaming laptop with ease. It won’t automatically sync, however, so you will need to sync your passwords through a third-party system, such as iCloud, Dropbox, or just a shared folder on a home network.
Since syncing your passwords is so easy, so too is sharing them with co-workers, team members, or any family members you trust. This adds to the simplicity of use, but naturally reduces the security a bit. Easy sharing means easier access. Couple that with a lack of dual-input authentication, and you’ve got a few security holes that could be exploited. This isn’t to say it is dangerous, just not quite as locked up as some. 256-bit AES encryption is still in the mix and will keep 99% of users totally secure. There’s just more room for operator error.
In the vault, you can store passwords for everything, from local email accounts to software. You can even pop in passwords manually should you feel the need. The generator gives you the standard fare, along with long strings of pronounceable words that can make your gate keys memorable as well as secure. Power users can pump it with hotkeys, and the virtual wallet is a nice asset, as simple as all the other parts. [Purchase: $50]
Pro: Multiple layers of identity protection available
Con: Minimalist interface often makes information hard to find
Honorable Mention: As a password manager alone, Blur is passable. It stores your passwords into your browser for easy access, but if you want to go mobile, things get a little more complicated. You’ll need to backup your passwords using their Backup and Sync feature which uses Dropbox as a repository for your passwords. Don’t worry, they’re encrypted with 256-bit security and even the administrators at Dropbox won’t be able to see them, but it’s an added step that seems pointlessly complicated.
What makes Blur different is that it won’t just hang on to your data and then spit it out when you need it; it is a cloak of security that hides your identity. Blur is the meshing of DoNotTrackMe and MaskMe, which were meant to provide you with identity protection much more than just password management. What it does is allows you to use a fake email mask whenever a website requests your email address. Were a hacker to crack your account, they’d only have the false email you used and the single, randomly-generated password. They would be prevented from ferreting out logins to other sites, since they would be working without a true email address.
The premium model also lets you create a mask for your credit cards. For each purchase, you can use a new credit card number with a pre-set limit. Now, no one can rack up charges on your real cards, even if your security is compromised.
The price tag is a little heavy, but anyone with a healthy dose of paranoia who needs a few extra layers between them and the all seeing eye of the internet might find the bugs that come with Blur – such as strange syncing and a less-than-intuitive interface – worth the hassle. [Purchase: $40]