Passwords are the key to your digital life. Until someone comes up with a better solution, a username/password combo is all that’s keeping someone malicious out of your email, banking, and Facebook accounts. Thus, you need secure passwords to protect your information, and the best way to do that is with a password manager.
It’s hard to come up with good passwords, and even tougher to remember all of them. Password managers solve this problem by saving your passwords for you and keeping them protected until you decrypt them. Beyond that basic functionality, let’s look at further features of password managers to give you even greater security.
1. Generating Secure Passwords
Did you know that your password manager isn’t helping you much if it’s storing poor passwords? Just because your “browndog1” password is in LastPass doesn’t make it any stronger! Once you’re using a manager, it’s important to let it generate random passwords for you.
To get set up with a secure password, visit your account settings on any website and follow the Change password instructions. Instead of coming up with something yourself, let your password manager do the work. Using its tools, you can choose how many characters your new password will have, how complex it will be, and similar options. The great part is that since you don’t have to remember this password, you can go crazy with it.
A 40-character password full of numbers and symbols is ultra-safe and no sweat for the manager to remember. Of course, many websites have restrictions on how long your passwords can be, so you might have to adjust them slightly. Use a password as long and complex as the site allows and you’re all set.
This doesn’t just apply to existing sites, either. Whenever you create an account on a new page, you don’t have to make the password. Let your manager create it for you just like the above and add it to your secure bank.
2. Importing Wi-Fi Credentials and Other Passwords
Whenever you connect to a Wi-Fi network, your computer saves the password so you can easily connect to it later. LastPass allows you to import all Wi-Fi network passwords you’ve saved as secure notes. This makes sure you don’t lose these if you have to reset your computer, and is obviously safer than keeping them in a text file or sticky note.
Install the full LastPass installer for your operating system, then visit More Options > Advanced > Import to grab all the Wi-Fi networks on your machine. As a bonus, you can also use these import options (often found under Tools > Advanced > Import) to grab passwords from your browser’s password keeper, another password manager, or a CSV file of your own.
3. Keeping Credit Cards and Other Sensitive Data
Password managers aren’t just for saving website passwords. You can save all sorts of information in secure notes, with special fields for many types of data. For instance, LastPass lets you save bank accounts, credit cards, driver’s licenses, membership cards, software licenses, and more. If none of those match what you need, you can store a generic note with anything you like.
Of course, everywhere you record these sensitive types of information makes them more vulnerable. Because password managers encrypt your data, everything you enter here is safe from attack unless someone were to figure out your password. Memorizing your social security number only takes a few minutes and is probably a better idea than storing it. However, keeping any of this info in a password manager is far safer than recording it as a note on your phone.
@NatalieLanovill Always wise to make up answers for security questions and note them somewhere safe like Lastpass secure notes section
— Chrisanthrope (@2ManyOfUs) June 20, 2016
If you’re interested in a password manager that masks your credit card number for additional security, Blur is the app for you.
4. Auditing Your Passwords
There are plenty of tools that let you test the strength of your passwords. While these can’t account for breaches or giving a password away via phishing, they do let you see how long it would take a computer to crack your password.
Most password managers have a feature that rates your password security and gives you an overall score. You can quickly see which passwords are weak, duplicates, or old. Of course, your score might suffer a bit because of restrictions that websites place on your passwords, but it’s still a great way to boost your security. If any passwords aren’t up to par, just visit your account and let your manager create a new password for you.
— Helen (@helenvholmes) November 23, 2016
Your password manager’s auditing function should also include a breach notification that lets you know if your email address was involved in major breaches. Usually these massive hacks — like the Dropbox one in 2016 — publish a huge list of affected emails, which your manager can check against yours. It’s always a good idea to change your password when these attacks happen, but you can know if your credentials were stolen with this feature.
5. Fingerprint Login and Auto-Filling on Mobile
One of the big pains to get used to once you start using a password manager is juggling passwords on mobile. Typing your long master password to log into your manager app is annoying on a phone keyboard. And once you’ve logged in, you have to copy and paste your password to log into mobile apps. There’s a better way: most password managers let you use your phone’s fingerprint scanner to log in, and let you instantly fill passwords into apps.
Check your mobile manager app for an option to use Google or Samsung’s fingerprint utilities on Android or TouchID on iOS to log in. This is much faster than typing your master password and still secure. Once that’s done, look for the option to enable automatic mobile fill-in. For instance, LastPass on Android requires accessibility access to create a little bubble when you’re logging into an app. Simply scan your fingerprint and tap the site name to instantly fill it. No copy/pasting required!
6. Secure Password Sharing
You might not always share passwords with others, but when you do it’s important to go about it in a secure manner. Whether you want to give your significant other access to your cloud storage or video streaming account or need to have someone log into your account on short notice, your password manager can make it happen.
Right-click any of your information and you can share it with whomever you’d like. They’ll have to install the manager you’re using for free, and it’s far safer than sending the password over email or text message.
Sharing via a password manager brings further benefits. If you only want someone to access that password for a limited time, you can revoke their access whenever you need. Also, you can create a random password to share with them and quickly change it later so they don’t retain access.
We’ve covered other ways to share online accounts without passwords, too.
7. Give Emergency Access to Loved Ones
Sharing passwords is great for short-term use, but what about if you were to lose access to your account? Most password managers offer emergency access that lets you specify people you trust and give them access to your account if something were to happen to you. After they’re added, they can request access to your account, and you choose an amount of time that has to pass before that happens.
This way, you can deny their access request before however many days you’ve specified. But if you were to pass away, lose your memory, or some other tragedy occurred, your loved ones would have a way to manage your digital life. Your data remains inaccessible by your manager, so it’s a secure measure as well.
What Password Manager Features Do You Count On?
If you weren’t convinced that using a password manager is a great choice, these seven superpowers should show you that it’s essential. Most managers offer a suite of these features for free. With just a bit of setup work, you’ll never have to worry about coming up with a secure password, storing information safely, or giving passwords to family again. If everyone used a password manager, we’d see far fewer accounts hacked online.
Now that you know the power of password managers, make sure you aren’t making costly mistakes with them.
Which password manager is your favorite, and what features do you love about it? Give your thoughts below in the comments!
Image Credits: Malchev/Shutterstock