How a Password Manager Works
There are many reasons why I think that password managers are one of the best things since sliced bread. But top of the list are that it saves me time and brain power.
In the time before password managers, if you worked online chance are, you used the same password or a simple variant of the same password over and over again. Sound familiar?
It does for me, because I fall into that camp. I mean I use a relatively secure password anyway, but it’s always been a variant of the same one over and over again.
The thing is, with so many of the damn things there is a tendency for them to become compromised. We all take a collective intake of breath each time we see that another big organisation has been hacked and our data taken.
I will save a post for another time about security, data and privacy because it’s a pretty large topic to cover.
However, I feel a little bit more reassured since I started using a password manager. Before I carry on, this does sound a little like an advert, but it’s not. I don’t have any affiliate relationships with any of the three brands I’m going to mention here. One of them in fact declined my application, but I’m still going to write the post.
This post is going to cover off some of the more common aspects of password managers – for those of you who don’t know what they are. Think of this as your handy go to guide on what they are and why they’re a life saver.
What is a password manager?
Well, that’s a good question. Think of it a little like a safe where you can store your log-in information (website addresses, login names and passwords), bank account & bank card details, personal identity information and any secure docs you’d like to keep a safe digital copy of.
The safes are protected with encryption. I like to think of the protection good encryption can offer as a little like Daenerys Dragon – as in it understands another language, only Dany seems to be able to communicate with it and it breathes fire if anyone tries to get a little bit feisty with it (aka it’ll kill you).
Encryption isn’t completely foolproof, and those with enough will in the world will probably find a way to get into it. The probability that they will get at your data is lower than if you didn’t have it stored in an encrypted way, but nothing is ever 100% safe.
So a password manager is a safe that’s protected by a dragon. Cool huh? (have I mentioned I’m a bit of a geek? No? Well, I’m a bit of a geek).
What does a password manager do beyond saving your important stuff?
Well, it doesn’t wake you up with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and toast, but most men don’t do that either.
When you go to a website you’ve never used before that you need to register for. It will auto fill information like email address, home / business address info, payment information (except the cvv code) and recommend a unique secure passwords. Oh, then it saves it all for you so you don’t need to remember it. A bit like a super handy person offering to hold and carry your bags for you when you go shopping, but they’re built like a brick shithouse and know how to do kung-fu if someone tries to take those bags from them.
That’s the basics that all password managers will do. Even the ones that are part of your operating system.
Premium Password Managers
The ones you pay for do a couple of things that are even more handy.
Watchtower or Dark Web Threat Protection
Huh? No, that’s not the name of the latest action thriller with Idris Elba and Chris Hemsworth (although, hey Hollywood!)
These are essentially the same feature but are what a couple of the password managers call it.
What they do is scan the email addresses you’ve got against the known databases containing information of people who’s data had been stolen in data breaches. They then tell you which accounts have been compromised and that you should change your password.
Magic, eh? So you don’t need to panic about whether your details might have been hacked or not, a nice little app tells you and what to do about it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t some nice swanky suite at a posh club with bouncers keeping the riff raff out. Although the principle is similar.
Each security suite is slightly different, but the simple way of thinking about this is that they scan all of your saved data and tell you where you’re using the same password.
Now, I’ll warn you, the first time you see this, you might freak out.
I am no angel. I’ve reused my password countless times, my data has been on known data breaches and I’ve had vulnerable passwords.
It’s far more common than you think. So let’s embrace it and own it.
TIP: Each time I go to a website to login now, I check if it’s on my “naughty, naughty, very naughty” list and change the password when I login. The more often you do this, the better.
How do I use a password manager?
I know, you’re probably thinking that it’s going to be a bit like that dull throbbing ache your boobs get before your period, i.e. annoying.
If you’re using a paid for password manager you should install the app on all the devices where you’ll be using it. Mine are on my Macs and my iPhone & iPad. I also have the browser plugin installed.
There are two ways you’ll use the password manager the most.
Creating new logins
As I’ve already mentioned, when you create a new login on your computer you’ll want to save your login details automatically in your password manager.
Generating VERY secure, unique passwords
I would also recommend that you ask the password manager to generate a new password for you when you do this. What this means is that a. You’ll have a very secure password and b. You’ll have a unique password for that account.
You might be worrying about not being able to remember the password. Or maybe that’s just me? Well, that’s the whole point of having a password manager, duh! (reader, I’ve said that to myself MANY times recently). When you go to login to your account, you just use the password manager to prefill the field for you.
What’s the difference between Free and Paid for Password Managers?
In simple terms, the level of features available and the level of availability if you use, say an Android phone and an Apple Mac.
There are roughly three types of password manager available, ones built into operating systems on laptops or computers – i.e. Keychain on Mac OSX and iOS, ones built into web browsers for example Chrome, and paid for password managers.
The password managers built into web browsers for the most part will only remember the passwords for websites or services you login to. The exception to this is if you’re using Safari (as it uses the OSX keychain).
Operating System Password Managers
Operating system password managers are a little different.
The one from Apple, called Keychain, will store passwords for apps, wifi networks (which it then shares with all your devices), system files (like digital certificates) and secure notes.
However, the one from Microsoft behaves a little more like the paid for apps that are out there. It has more features, but you can only use it for free on one device. This means if you want to use the app across all your devices, you’ll have to pay.
The paid for password managers come in many flavours, I’ve listed the three most popular below, including the one I use. If you don’t fancy them, I would advise shopping around – but a word of caution – always check the reviews by independent organisations. You want something that’s more secure than Kings Landing under attack from a dragon.
If it’s completely free, unless it’s part of an operating system or web browser, it’s too expensive.
What's the difference between the premium ones?
There aren’t too many differences between them. They will all pretty much do the same thing. The fundamental difference is around how they look and feel.
I’ve put together a comparison table with all the features and pricing for the three most popular ones.
If you’d like to get a copy, just click on the download link at the bottom of this post. Or if you’d just like to “skip to the end” then you can jump there.
How much do they cost?
They vary in price slightly.
They list the per month cost, but you can pay for a year’s licence. Unfortunately it seems all the tech companies have cottoned on to the fact that a subscription model is the best and are charging accordingly. Annoying AF but not a lot you can do about it sadly.
For a single account, you’re looking at between £2 and £4 per month.
I will share a tip with you. If you do want to pay for one, and you’re using a Mac, don’t buy it from the app stores – the price is actually higher than if you buy it directly from their site. I have no idea why but save yourself a few pennies.
The shorter answer is that for a yearly licence a password manager will cost you less than a decent manicure. If you can afford to keep your nails in tip-top condition, you can afford to keep your security the same.
Can I get a family account?
Yes, the ones I’ve listed in the comparison table all have family accounts with shared vaults.
Tech Essentials & budget Cheat sheet
Life’s too short to have to keep reading this blog post.
So I’ve created a comparison table for Email & Office Platforms; Antivirus & Password Managers.
I’ve even thrown in a budget planner.
Download today and get an exclusive 20% off your first year with Google GSuite.