What is a password manager and do I need one?

Passwords have become more complicated than ever. If passwords are the bane of your life, a password manager could be the answer. Here’s what to know.

Passwords have become more complicated than ever. If passwords are the bane of your life, a password manager could be the answer. Here’s what to know.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
4
minute read
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Posted 27 APRIL 2021

What’s a password manager? 

Password managers generate and autofill passwords as you need them, which makes them a great way to up your online security. And the best part? You never have to remember another password again. 

How do password managers work? 

A password manager is basically a digital safe, somewhere to keep your passwords under lock and key, so that hackers and cybercriminals can’t get at them. Simply sign up to one of the many password manager apps on the market, then you can start easily using multiple complicated passwords without needing to memorise them. But you do normally have to create one ‘master’ password or passphrase yourself, to begin with. It’s worth checking out customer reviews for password managers, to see which ones are the most highly rated.

Do I need a password manager?

The National Cyber Security Centre recommends you use password management software whenever you can. Password managers let you use unique, complicated passwords for every website you visit.  
 
Without a password manager, don’t be surprised if you start suffering from password overload. The temptation is to use variations on the same password all the time, which makes it easier for hackers to target you.  
 
Using a password manager can make online shopping much safer. It also makes it much quicker. That’s because many password managers have an autofill function, which fills in your shipping details for you. That saves you the hassle of having to type your address for the thousandth time.  

Which password manager should I use? 

There are a bunch of password managers you can choose from, so it’s a case of shopping around. PC Mag recommends Dashlane for its tough security, and LastPass if you’re looking for a free option. Other big names in the business include NordPass, 1Password and RoboForm.  

Types of password manager

There are a couple of different types of password manager, so you’ll need to weigh up the options and decide which works for you.  

  • On-device manager 
    These store your passwords on one device, like your phone or tablet. One drawback about on-device managers is you can’t easily log in to your website accounts and other password-protected web services from your PC, Mac or any other device.  
  • Cloud-sync managers  
    These store your data in the cloud, meaning you can access your account pages on websites easily, no matter whether you’re using  your phone, tablet  or PC.

Features of password managers 

  • A great password manager will offer you a whole bunch of features. When searching for the one that’ll suit you best, keep an eye out for:  
  • Automated password fill-in tools 
  • Extra security – some will monitor the web to see if your personal data crops up anywhere 
    Phone and online support   

Are password managers worth it? 

Password managers could be worth it for you, depending on your needs. They can be especially useful if you have multiple online website accounts that all require passwords, or if you’re a business with employees who might accidentally risk your company’s security by using weak passwords. But, as with everything, password managers have downsides.  If a hacker does manage to crack open a password manager, they’d gain access to all of your passwords in the vault.  

Are password managers safe? 

Nothing is ever 100 per cent foolproof, but password managers could be a good way of protecting multiple passwords, especially if you set up two-factor authentication on your password manager account. Also, the best password manager tools are devised to keep your passwords secret from even the companies that make them. This means that even if the company is hacked, the hackers shouldn’t be able to get hold of your data.  

How do hackers find out your password?

According to the National Cyber Security Centre, there are a few tricks cyber-criminals use to try and steal your password and personal details. These include:  

  • Conning you into revealing your password  
    Watch out for emails pretending to be from businesses you trust. These could be phishing emails, which trick you into handing over your data.  
  • Reusing a password that’s been hacked in a data breach  
    This is why it’s so risky to use the same password on different websites.  
  • Cyber guessing 
    Cyber-criminals use automated programs, which guess at thousands of different passwords until they hit on the right one.  
  • Password spraying 
    Hackers try to get into your accounts simply by guessing commonly used passwords. That’s why you should never use terms like ‘password’ or ‘123456’.  
  • Shoulder surfing 
    That’s to say, physically standing over you while you input your pin code or password. 

Should I change my passwords regularly? 

You might think that regularly changing your passwords would increase your security, but the National Cyber Security Centre doesn’t agree. Frequently changing your passwords could in fact put your security at risk. That’s because:

  • It’s a pain, making you more likely to forget your passwords or to write down new ones.
  • You’re likely to choose new passwords similar to the original one.
  • If someone has access to your account, they’ll probably receive any password-reset info.

What is a password wallet?

A password wallet is another name for a password manager. It’s basically somewhere potentially safe where you can store all your online passwords.

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