Security geeks will tell you the easiest way to get hacked is to use the same password for every website you use. If one website gets breached by a hacker, one of the first things they try is to use the stolen IDs and passwords on other websites (banks, stores, medical agencies) to see if they can get in. Your first line of defense against this is not to re-use your passwords. With more and more online accounts, though, the little sheet of paper with all those passwords on it is going to get pretty crowded.
Technology can help you with this problem, which is good considering that technology caused it in the first place. Password managers (in their many forms) can store (and also create) secure passwords. They can free you from mis-typing that 20-character nonsense word that secures your online banking so you won’t get locked out. And most importantly, they will keep you from re-using passwords in different locations.
There are two kinds of password managers you can use, and they’re free. Most of them work across platforms, meaning they have versions for your desktop, laptop, phone and tablet. This allows you to use secure passwords from all your devices.
The first type is the stand-alone app, which you can download. Major players here are LastPass, and Dashlane. They all have premium features that cost money but on a basic free level, they all work to generate passwords, save them in an encrypted database, and then automatically paste them into websites and anywhere else secure credentials are needed. All major stand-alone programs also work with different web browsers. If there is a website that only works with Microsoft Edge, but you usually use Firefox, these apps can handle the switch.
If you decide to upgrade the free version, what do you get? For example, you can get encrypted online storage, advanced two-factor authentication, dark-web monitoring of your accounts and emergency access for your friends and loved ones. LastPass is $36 per year. Dashlane is a little pricier at $60 a year.
Another option is functionality built into web browsers. All modern web browsers such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Safari have built-in password managers. You have probably seen this when you entered a username and password on a web site, and the browser asked if you wanted to save it for future use. The next time you go to this web site (assuming you said yes, save the password), it should be automatically entered for you. The downside to a browser-based password manager is that if you do need to use a different browser for a website, your password won’t be automatically entered. Also, you will need to have an account with the browser’s distributor (e.g. Microsoft account for Edge, Apple ID for Safari).
Which one is right for you? Try the one built-in to your web browser first. If it meets your needs, look no further. If there’s an annoyance factor with the browser version, download and try out one of the stand-alone apps. And if even that doesn’t satisfy you, look at one of the premium upgrades.
Any technology that can thwart online crooks should be in your toolbox, so maybe now is the time to upgrade from the index card in your desk drawer.