Why you need a password manager

Author: @smartprivacyio | Updated: May 22, 2019

A password manager is probably our single most recommend privacy tool. Learn what they are, why to use them, and how to get started today.

Most of us don't get very excited when we think about passwords. In fact, we can probably recall dozens of times when they've failed us.

The current state of password management is pretty bad. First, we're bad at creating passwords that are difficult to guess. Second, many people choose to re-use their easily guessed passwords.

In 2019, the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a list of the most commonly used passwords. They are:

  • 123456
  • 123456789
  • qwerty
  • password
  • 111111
  • 12345678
  • abc123
  • 1234567
  • password1
  • 12345

These are universally bad passwords because they're very easy to guess. If you were a smart hacker, they would be the first ten passwords you'd try.

In the real world, hackers have tools that iterate through lists of hundreds of thousands of commonly used passwords. There are also methods that roll through all possible options, ticking over one character at a time.

Enter password managers, tools designed to make it easy to create and maintain secure passwords on your computers and mobile devices.

1. Password managers make it easy to have unique passwords for every site.

Many people re-use passwords around the internet. We all know that friend or family member who uses the same password for everything.

Sometimes, and only if the site specifically requests it through enforced password requirements, they'll add an additional number or an exclamation point.

The problem with this is if and when an attacker gets access to one of your passwords, say on some forum you signed up for back in 2002, they've now got the keys to your digital kingdom.

A core feature of password managers is that they let you maintain one single password that unlocks access to all of your other passwords. This makes it super easy to use secure passwords because you don't have to remember them. You don't even have to know them!

2. Password managers make it easy to generate complex passwords.

You can significantly increase your online security by using a complex password.

It would take roughly .29 milliseconds for a computer to guess any of the common passwords above. Extend the length out to 12 characters, and you're looking at approximately 200 years!

Most password managers have a feature that generates strong, secure passwords for you. It's a must-have utility, that when coupled with their password storage feature creates the digital equivalent of Fort Knox. These are the two most important boxes to check for password security.

3. Most password managers can alert you when your credentials have been leaked.

Let's face it -- security breaches happen. Often. It seems like not even a week goes by, and the news cycle is dominated by yet another hack or breach that disclosed significant amounts of user data.

The best mindset to adopt is not an "if this happens", but a "when this happens". It's going to happen to you.

Several of the password managers we've reviewed include features that will let you know when your credentials have been exposed and are likely being targeted by hackers online.

It's a good policy to make sure this feature is active and that you respond quickly by changing your passwords to complex, unique ones.

4. Password managers make logging into sites on your smartphone a lot easier.

Creating secure passwords is great -- but if you have to type them every time it can be challenging to use on the day to day, especially on a mobile phone.

The good news is that most password managers have mobile apps that integrate seamlessly with smartphone web browsers and allow you to login with a tap or a touch. Many even have biometric, TouchID or FaceID implemented for fast, secure access.

Millions of people use password managers every day. There are dozens of popular services that support almost every variation of web browser, operating system, mobile device, tablet, etc.

It's never been more critical to manage your passwords wisely, but it's also never been easier. Using a password manager is one of the privacy tips that we recommend the most strongly.