Password Managers for Beginners

Passwords are often the only thing standing between a hacker and your online accounts. This guide helps you choose a password manager to help you create strong, unique passwords. It’s an easy way to make browsing the web easier, faster, and more secure.

Why it’s a good idea to use unique passwords
I don’t think I need to convince anyone that passwords are annoying. It’s hard to remember them, so everyone uses the same password for all of their accounts. You know this, I know this. But hackers also know this.

If you use the same password everywhere, a hacker only needs to get your password once in order to break into many of your online accounts. And it seems like every week, we hear about a massive new password breach. For example, Yahoo recently announced that passwords for 500 million Yahoo users were breached in 2014. Imagine if an attacker used your single, easy-to-remember password to access your health care records, your home address, credit card numbers, or your social security number. (You can check if your password has already been leaked here.) To minimize the damage from a breach, you should use unique passwords on each account. But it can be a challenge to remember each password.

Enter password managers
Password managers make it easy to remember a single password, and still have long, unique passwords on all of your accounts. How is this possible? You use just one password to unlock your secure password “vault.” From your vault, you can quickly fill out login forms on all of your devices.

How do you get started?

Finding your password manager

A few password managers are usually recommended by security specialists, including LastPass, KeePass, and 1Password. They are all good options, but have different features that may impact which you want to use. Let’s quickly highlight some of the features of each tool. I’ve written guides for each, and pointed to links below.

1Password

Happy! Easy to use, and well-designed. Perhaps the easiest for unfamiliar users. Syncs to a desktop application so you can access your passwords offline.
Not so happy. More expensive than alternatives ($36 annually OR $65 one time), and does not natively support Linux.

Want to try 1Password? Check out 1Password for Beginners.

LastPass

Happy! Well-designed, easy to use, and it’s free for most features, or $2 monthly for a few specialty features. Supports many desktop and mobile operating systems.
Not so happy. Slightly more work to set up than 1Password (e.g., manually setting up keyboard shortcuts). Because it’s tightly integrated into your browser, you may sometimes have a difficult time accessing your passwords offline.

Want to try LastPass? Check out LastPass for Beginners.

KeePass

Happy! Free and open source. KeePass can work on most platforms and operating systems. With KeePass, you control where your data are located (e.g., you can be “offline only” if needed).
Not so happy. Not as intuitive, and not as well-designed as alternatives. Unlike 1Password or LastPass, KeePass isn’t really one tightly integrated application — it’s an ecosystem of compatible applications. It will also require you to find a sync tool (e.g., Dropbox) if you want to sync across devices.

Want to try KeePass? Check out KeePass for Beginners.

Get started!

These are just a few of the great password management options available, but I hope these guides are helpful. Choose the tool you like most and get started. Feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions here, or on Twitter at @mshelton. I’ll occasionally update each guide, and may add more password managers (e.g., Dashlane, Padlock) in the future.

Last updated August 3 2017. This article is crossposted on mshelt.onl/stories.