Security experts tell us to create long, complex passwords (think numerals and symbols) for every online account. But how are we supposed to remember all of those mind-numbing character strings?
Enter software that manages your passwords for you. These programs allow you to store your passwords in one file by creating one ultra-secure master password to serve as the portal to all your other user names and passwords. Here are three of our favorites.
Dashlane. This is an excellent choice for the password-challenged. Not only is it highly secure, but it’s also a breeze to use. Dashlane is a free download for Windows and Mac PCs and most smart phones and tablets. Enter a master password (be sure to remember it because Dashlane doesn’t save it) and the app automatically encrypts your passwords and other private information using military-grade AES-256 encryption, which has never been hacked. Dashlane imports new and existing passwords from your Web browser into its “vault”; the program can remember your shipping and credit card information, as well as auto-fill online checkout screens.
Dashlane also works within your Web browser to monitor your online activities. When you log in to your e-mail, for instance, Dashlane pops up and asks whether it should save your user name and password. Plus, it rates the strength of your existing passwords (and tells you if they should be changed), and it generates strong passwords for new sites that you join. If you signed up for two-step verification using Google Authenticator (you need a code generated by an app in addition to your password), you may continue to use it.
Although Dashlane is a dandy password manager, the free version is limited to one device. If you’d like to use it on several gadgets, you’ll need to buy the premium edition ($20 per year), which syncs passwords and backs up data across multiple devices.
LastPass. This is another top-notch free password manager. Like Dashlane, LastPass prompts you to create a master password (it, too, uses AES-256 encryption), integrates with the browser, detects when you log in to password-protected sites and asks whether you want it to remember log-in information. Like Dashlane, LastPass generates strong passwords for new sites and auto-fills credit card and shipping information. And LastPass has added the ability to rate the strength of existing passwords.
LastPass stores your data online, which lets you access your credit card numbers from any Web browser. (The downside: You may be uncomfortable with having your sensitive personal data stored in the cloud.) The app also supports Google Authenticator, but you’ll need the premium version ($1 a month) to use LastPass on a variety of smart phones and tablets, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS (Apple) and Windows Phone devices.
Keeper. If all you want is a free password manager and little more, Keeper is appealing. Like its competitors, the app uses bulletproof AES-256 encryption. The app supports two-step verification, but it doesn’t rate the strength of your passwords. The free version works well on a single device, but you’ll want Keeper Backup ($10 per device per year) to sync among several PCs, tablets and phones.