I won’t shut up about. They’re among the most helpful (and important) tools a person can use, yet I know countless people who just keep writing down, forgetting and resetting the same few easily hacked credentials.
If that’s you, it’s time to get with the program — or in this case the app. Concerned about cost? Don’t be: Many great password managers have very capable free versions. But there are two I think stand above most others (including those in LastPass; the second, Bitwarden. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to focus mostly on the former.), because they have one key capability most others charge for. The first is called
What is a password manager, really?
A password manager is simply an encrypted database of all your passwords. Instead of trying to remember that same handful of (probably not very secure) passwords you use everywhere you go online, you just have to remember one: the one that unlocks LastPass.
Why this over the likes of 1Password, Dashlane, Keeper, Password Vault, Sticky Password and other products, all of which are perfectly good? Simple: The free version of LastPass supports password synchronization. That means you can access your data on your phone, tablet and PC — a benefit that’s absolutely essential if you use more than one device.
Beyond that, it offers common helpers like strong-password generation, automatic form-filling, encrypted credit card storage (for easier online shopping), a digital vault, password sharing (with family members and trusted friends) and so on.
Incredibly useful features like those help explain why I prefer LastPass (or any password manager, really) to the rudimentary password-management capabilities built into Android, iOS and your web browser. Indeed, I think once you get accustomed to having those tools at your disposal, you’ll wonder how you managed so long without them.
Make no mistake, there’s a learning curve to LastPass, starting with the process of importing any existing passwords you might have. What’s more, if you’re an iOS user, you’ll find that while LastPass can autofill existing passwords into your apps, iOS doesn’t currently allow it to automatically capture new ones — meaning you’ll have to manually add them as you sign up for new sites and services. (Although iOS 14 is rumored to include upgrades to Apple’s Keychain password manager, the specifics have yet to be announced.)
That small hassle is greatly overshadowed by the overall convenience of the app. Your goal as an internet citizen should be to use a different, robust password for each app, site and service, and a password manager is the only practical way to make that happen. You should be using one. And LastPass is, to my thinking, the best free option out there (followed very closely by Bitwarden).
Other free password management options
Should you bother with the Premium version of Lastpass, which costs $36 a year? (It was originally $12 and then jumped to $24; now it’s triple the price.) I’d argue that the handful of additional features you get — including one-to-many password sharing, priority tech support and 1GB of encrypted storage — are superfluous for most users. The one exception is emergency access, which lets you set up your account so a spouse or family member can access your passwords in case of crisis.
For the record,is another robust password manager that also supports password-syncing in its free version. I don’t like it as much, but it’s definitely worth a look. Meanwhile, I recently started using Bitwarden full-time, and for the most part it’s been great. It’s an open-source product, which may appeal to some users.
What’s your preferred password-management method these days? And if you refuse to use one of these tools, I’d like to know why! 😜
Originally published last year. Updated with new information.
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