What is a password manager?

We manage to tackle the question of what a password manager is and why you should have one.

What is a password manager?

A password manager is a service that’s used to store and manage all of your passwords in a single location. Instead of you having to think up and remember a range of secure passwords for the various sites and services you use, a password manager can do the hard work for you. There are free versions, dedicated premium alternatives and certain VPNs like Norton 360 include them as part of a software suite.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a VPN is and why you need one, we have an article for that, as well as a list of the best VPNs for online privacy.

How does a password manager work?

All you have to remember with a password manager is a single login: the username and master password for accessing the password manager. That’s it. The password manager then acts as a vault for all of your various usernames and passwords. A password manager can import credentials you already have stored in browsers like Chrome to make life easier – not to mention more secure; storing passwords in browsers isn’t a great idea, particularly given how exposed you are in terms of
your IP address – and it can also automatically detect when you create a new login somewhere or update a password so you can keep your credentials up to date with a single click.

The good news is a password manager’s vault also tends to be incredibly secure, with your login details stored in an encrypted database that’s only accessible with a single master password.

Why do I need a password manager?

LastPass conducted a survey in 2017 that found people, on average, have to remember 191 different passwords for work, while a 2019 Google Online Security Survey discovered that 52% of survey respondents reuse the same password across multiple accounts. Cybercriminals can attain stolen credentials on the dark web and then use old or recycles passwords to access other sites and services where users have the same login information.

Just have a gander at the Have I Been Pwned website for scary proof of how vulnerable online username and passwords can be, or the recent news of the billions of emails and passwords that leaked as part of a massive data breach.

Using a password manager to store, generate and, importantly, update your existing passwords to more secure options helps protect against these types of cyber attacks. Password mangers can also be incredibly convenient, automatically populating username and password fields on devices where you’re logged in with your master password.

Why is a password manager useful?

Every time you sign up to a new online service, you’ll likely need to input a username and password. To make life easier, you could use the same username and password everywhere – likely a password you can easily recall – but that’s a very insecure approach to protecting your personal data. Another option is to manually remember or recall different username and/or password details, but that’s not particularly practical.

The third option is to use a password manager wherein you only have to remember a single master password for accessing a system that stores all of your passwords. Better still, password managers tend to automatically generate or let you manually generate incredibly secure passwords that create a more secure buffer between your login credentials and your personal data.

If a particular website or service is compromised and your login details are accessible to hackers, having different passwords across all of your services means the login details from one compromised service or site can’t be readily used to access other information stored behind different secure credentials.

What types of password manager are there?

Offline password managers can be used on a single device only, designed to store and manage passwords on just that device. This is a good choice if you don’t want your details stored on the cloud, but it’s not terribly convenient.

The more common password manager these days is cloud-based, which means you can access your vault from any device that has an internet connection. These services also tend to have native app support on mobile devices, which makes it a lot easier to manage credentials when away from a computer. If you already have internet security software, like Hotspot Shield or Norton 360, you may already have access to a password manager.

What devices can a password manager protect?

Desktop-based password managers can only be used on a single device, which means if the device breaks or goes missing, so too do all of your stored credentials. Cloud-based password managers can technically be used on any device with an internet connection, but they also tend to have native support for iOS and Android devices. Download the app on a supported device then login with your username and master password to access your stored passwords.