We are terrible at password creation. We still suck at creating them (two of the most-used passwords remain “123456” and “password”), we share them way too freely, and we forget them all the time. Our biggest problem with online security is actually the very thing that could protect it. A good password manager is essential.
A password manager takes away the need to remember and think up complex logins. This is what makes a password secure. You can share these logins with others, if necessary. These tools protect passwords by encrypting your login information in a virtual vault, either locally or in the cloud. A password manager is the best way to improve your security. Although web browsers now offer password management features , they are not sufficient ..
Password managers come in a variety of prices and capabilities. We compared some of the most popular. All of them support Windows Mac OS, Android and iOS as well as all major browsers. All allow you to sync data across multiple devices. However, you might have to pay an extra fee.
Here’s our top picks. We also have tips and links to detailed reviews for each product. And once you’ve got one all picked out, head over to our guide on mastering your password manager.
Updated 11/22/21 to include a link to a 2021 study revealing the most common (terrible) passwords.
Best overall password manager
LastPass ticks all the boxes on our password manager want list. It allows you to easily create complex passwords, capture and manage login credentials, sync them across multiple devices, and share them with people you trust. With just a few mouse clicks, you can identify weak passwords and duplicates and update them. It stores credit card numbers, personal data, and other information to automatically fill out web forms such as when you make a purchase, sign up for a service or pay a bill.
LastPass supports a variety of multi-factor authentication options to protect your vault. These include app-based authenticators such as Symantec VIP or Google Authenticator, and hardware tokens such as YubiKey and fingerprint readers.
Dashlane is the strongest contender for LastPass’s crown. It is simple to use and has beautiful interface. The security dashboard is the best, and it grades your passwords and recommends actions to increase your score and protect yourself. Dashlane is available for free on a single device. However, if you need to sync across multiple devices, you will need a paid plan. Previously that meant the Premium plan, which has a $60 price tag–the highest in our roundup. But now Dashlane has an Essentials plan that costs just $3. 99 a month, or $2. 99 a month with a year’s subscription. It only covers two devices and excludes dark web monitoring or Dashlane’s VPN. It’s still a great price for this password manager for those with a smartphone and a computer.
What to look for in a password manager
Password managers, at their most basic, capture your username/password when you log in to a website. Then, they automatically fill in your credentials each time you return to the site. They store all of your passwords in an encrypted database (often called a “vault”) that you can protect with one master password.
Password managers offer more protection than that and can protect other types of data, beyond just your login credentials. We have narrowed down the features we were looking for, and you should as well:
Password generation: You’ve been reminded ad nauseam that the strongest passwords are long, random strings of characters, and that you should use a different one for each site you access. It’s not an easy task. This is why password generation, the ability to create complex passwords from letters, numbers and special characters, is an essential feature of any password manager. You can also have your passwords analyzed for weaknesses and updated with just a click.
Autofill and auto-login: Most password managers can autofill your login credentials whenever you visit a site and even log you in automatically. The master password is the only password you will ever need to enter. Although this is controversial, browser autofill has been a security issue for a long time. Managers will allow you to turn it off if the risk outweighs any benefits.
Secure sharing: Sometimes you need to share a password with a family member or coworker. You can share your password with a password manager without risking your security.
Two-factor authentication: To an enterprising cybercriminal, your password manager’s master password is as hackable as any other password. Increasingly, password managers support multi-factor authentication–using a second method such as a PIN, a fingerprint, or another “trusted device” for additional verification–to mitigate this risk. You should choose one that supports multi-factor authentication.
Protection for other personal data: Because of how frequently we use them online, credit card and bank account numbers, our addresses, and other personal data can be securely stored in many password managers and automatically filled into web forms when we’re shopping or registering an account.
No online security measure is 100 percent foolproof, though, as we were reminded when LastPass, one of the most reputable password managers, recently scrambled to fix a pair of vulnerabilities that could have compromised users’ passwords and their computers. And just last month, OneLogin was victim of a breach that compromised customer data, including the ability to decrypt data.
Still, most security experts agree that password managers are still the safest way for people to manage their myriad logins, and we agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks. After reading the guide, you should carefully choose the password manager that suits your needs. We also have a guide to the best free password managers.
All of our reviews
If you are curious about other options, we have listed them all below. To kick off the guide, we started with six password managers. However, we will continue to evaluate other options as well as reevaluate services that we have already reviewed.
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, our reviews are subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the services.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Michael Ansaldo, a veteran journalist covering technology for small businesses and consumers, is Michael Ansaldo. He regularly contributes to TechHive, PCWorld.
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