Odds are that you, like the rest of us, are spending more time in front of a computer than you used to. You’re probably not looking for another addition to your digital to-do list, but allow me to make one humble recommendation: Get started with a password manager. Now is a perfect time.
Here’s why: The more you browse, the better password managers become. As you log in to your favorite apps and web sites, they ask you if you’d like to save your password to their database so you never have to remember it—or even enter it manually—again. And right now we’re all using our computers more than ever. We’re using them to work, keep in touch with family and friends, play videogames, or just kill time while in self-isolation or under stay-at-home orders.
Back Up, What’s a Password Manager and Why Do I Need One?
A password manager keeps track of all of the passwords you use around the web—for your email, for online shopping, for banking or paying the bills—so you don’t have to remember them. The good ones will help you identify passwords that you’ve reused on multiple sites, or are weak and easily broken. They can even notify you when a site you use has been breached, so you can quickly change the password and protect your account.
“Most people are not actually following all the rules for good passwords, because it is really hard to do that without a password manager,” says Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “People often cope by reusing the same password on multiple accounts. But if that password gets breached on any of your accounts, you could have a big problem, because attackers will try the same password on all your accounts.”
If your passwords are already weak, she explains, odds are one of them will be breached eventually anyway. If you’ve been using the same password in multiple places, well, that’s even more of your personal data at risk. “By using a password manager and generating random passwords for all your accounts, you significantly reduce the chance of having your password stolen, and if it does get stolen it will only impact that one account,” Cranor says.
And yes, the best password managers cost money (although some good ones are free, or have a free tier), but consider this: The cost of a password manager is likely less than you’d spend trying to recover a breached account that contains all of your personal data, or what you’d spend on a subscription to an identity theft service. And it certainly takes less time to set up than dealing any of that would.
So How Do I Get Started?
If you’re ready to make the leap, first you need to pick a password manager. There are plenty to choose from, but we have a guide to the best password managers here. Our favorite is 1Password, both for its solid reputation as a password manager and its ability to provide two-factor authentication, which you should absolutely turn on for every service that supports it. 1Password also integrates well with apps on mobile devices, and it even has a “travel mode,” where you can delete sensitive information from the database in case your devices are stolen or confiscated, and then restore it when you—and your devices—are safe again.
If 1Password isn’t your jam, there are plenty of other options in our guide, including Bitwarden, which is free, and Dashlane, which bundles a virtual private network and made that Super Bowl ad you may remember from earlier this year.