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How to find the best password managers for PCs, Macs, and mobile devices

Government hacking or Heartbleed won't be held up by deploying a password manager but your life will be improved

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A password manager won't shield you against Heartbleed or the NSA, but it's an excellent first step in securing your identity, helping you increase the strength of the passwords that protect your online accounts because it will remember those passwords for you. A password manager will even randomly generate strong passwords, without requiring you to memorise or write down these random strings of characters. These strong passwords help shield against traditional password attacks such as dictionary, rainbow tables, or brute-force attacks.

Many password managers allow you to automatically populate your password vault by capturing your Web log-ins using a browser plug-in and allowing you to store these credentials. Other options for populating your password database include importing an Excel spreadsheet or manually entering your log-in information. Further, using these stored credentials is typically automated using a browser plug-in, which recognises the website's username and password fields, then populates these fields with the appropriate log-in information.

Although several browsers offer similar functionality out of the box, many password managers offer several benefits over the built-in browser functionality -- including encryption, cross-platform and cross-browser synchronisation, mobile device support, secure sharing of credentials, and support for multifactor authentication. In some cases, usernames and passwords must be copied from the password manager into the browser, reducing the ease-of-use but increasing the level of security by requiring entry of the master password before accessing stored log-in information.

Some password managers store your credentials locally, others rely on cloud services for storage and synchronisation, and still others take a hybrid approach. Some of the options using local storage (such as KeePass and 1Password) still support synchronisation through Dropbox or other storage services. Deciding which password manager is best for you will come down to features and ease-of-use, as well as to whether you're comfortable storing your passwords on the Internet.

Test Center Scorecard

 

Features

Ease of use

OS support

Setup

Value

Overall score

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

1Password 4.0

8

8

8

7

8

7.9 good

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

Dashlane 2.4.1

9

8

7

8

7

8.0 very good

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

KeePass 2.26

10

7

8

7

10

8.4 very good

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

LastPass 3.1.2

10

8

8

8

9

8.7 very good

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

PasswordBox 1.3

8

8

7

8

8

7.8 good

 

30%

25%

20%

15%

10%

 

SplashID Safe 7.2.3

7

7

8

7

7

7.2 good

             

If having your critical data stored in a cloud service worries you, then KeePass, 1Password, or SplashID Safe (sans SplashID's cloud service) offer the best options. If you trust cloud-based services with your passwords and believe they will really protect your data using good security practices and encryption, then LastPass, Dashlane, or PasswordBox are your best bets.

In my judgment, KeePass is the best of the options using local storage. The fact that it's open source, free, and complemented by countless plug-ins adds up to a very flexible option. With the right combination of plug-ins, KeePass can be made to do just about anything you could require of a password manager. My favorite cloud option is LastPass, primarily due to its low cost and the consistent implementation of features across all of the clients. Each LastPass client I tested was easy to work with, stable, and remarkably uniform from a usability perspective. Additionally, the fact that a LastPass Premium account is all of $1 per month makes it an extremely compelling option.

But one of these other options might suit you better. Really, you can't go wrong with any of these password managers.


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