10 essential features your password manager needs to have

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There has been a lot of talk about the end of the password, with each new technology promising, among other things, to end the password and the dreaded need to remember so many complex passwords. Yet, none have succeeded so far, as we still rely on our passwords to enter our online accounts. This is, of course, a potential security risk, as all of our private data, finances and health are locked behind passwords, which we have to store somewhere and recall when we want to log in. Furthermore, people avoid two-factor authentication making the problem more complex.

Add to these vexing issues the need for password hygiene, i.e., a need to change passwords, use long and complex passwords, and never reuse a password, and you get the complete picture of the challenge. This also translates to businesses, which are increasingly relying on cloud services, with each one requiring a different password. 

Given the challenge of generating and remembering a distinct, robust password for each account, how can individuals realistically manage this responsibility? This is where a password manager becomes invaluable. A password manager offers several advantageous features. These tools do more than just store and autofill your passwords; they can generate strong passwords and safeguard other sensitive digital data. By keeping your passwords in a secure, encrypted vault, password managers significantly reduce the burden of memorization associated with maintaining good password hygiene.

Password managers present an optimal solution to address the flaws of traditional passwords and the insecure methods commonly employed in their usage. However, it's important to note that not all password managers are alike in terms of effectiveness. The crucial factor lies in choosing a reliable provider that offers the ideal mix of features to suit your needs. Below you will find essential features we believe you should be looking for when choosing your password manager solution.

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1. Look for encryption

Any reputable password manager will make optimal use of the latest encryption technology. Take some time to read through the details of any password manager packages you’re interested in and lookout for information on which encryption algorithms they use. You’ll want to ensure that any sensitive data fields you enter are going to be stored and protected as securely as possible.

2. Secured credentials

While a password manager needs to be able to secure your credentials, it’s also possible that you could one day forget the master password. If this happens, you will not be able to log in and this could cause a lot of headaches and mean you cannot access your accounts. So, it’s worth checking that you can get a decryption key in a worst case scenario, while also ensuring that this isn’t able to be gained by someone other than yourself.

3. Multi-factor authentication

Having the added benefit of multi-factor authentication offers another level of security, which is especially useful on any cloud-sync password managers. It means that you’ll need to have both a master password and a second factor, such as a smartphone notification, in order to gain access to your passwords. It may add to the cost of some packages, but it’s worth having.

4. Regular updates

Password managers, like any other chunk of software, need to be kept up to date, so be sure to check that your preferred options stay on top of things. Hackers and other cybercriminals are modifying their behavior and techniques all the time, so you’ll want to invest in a password manager that is updated on a regular basis in order to match the ever-changing security landscape.

5. Password generation

Coming up with a good password in the first place is a common challenge we all face. By spending money on a quality password manager, you should get the added benefit of the software being able to generate a new log-in whenever you need it. This will invariably be much better than anything you produce yourself too, which means it should be both safe and secure.

6. Managing passwords

If you’ve been using log-ins for any amount of time then once you start using a password manager there’s an additional benefit to be had. Many password manager apps can check over your existing password collection and advise if any are weak, or might have already been compromised. They can frequently match them against databases of breached log-in details and advise of how best to change details to fend off any potential attacks.

7. Platform compatibility

It’s well worth checking that any password manager you might be investigating is able to function on a variety of platforms. This will make like much easier, especially if you tend to move between different operating systems, like switching from an Apple computer to an Android smartphone, or vice versa. It should be able to work in harmony with your other software too, including popular web browsers such as Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari.

8. Convenience features

One of the best things about a decent password manager is that it can make your life much easier. If you’re looking for convenience, then having an auto-fill feature as part of the package can streamline your online activities. This will often allow you to access websites using a browser extension, thereby removing the need to do any additional typing in of password details. However, you’ll want to check that this aspect is as secure as possible and not able to be used by anyone else who might jump on your computer or device.

9. Added value

While there are free password managers that exist, it’s always a good idea to spend some money and invest in an app that offers value as well as plenty of security. If you’re signed up to a package you’ll get better maintained software, that’s able to stay on top of any of the latest security alerts as well as providing you with plenty of features. Having a password manager that is always bang up to date offers much more peace of kind than a free or adware-based design.

10. Ease of use

Most of the decent password manager packages out there are very easy to use, which makes everyday log-in life that much more bearable. Alongside being easy to use, your chosen password manager should have plenty of features and functionality, all of which can be operated on multiple devices and without the need for a manual. As with any type of computer security system, the ones that come with a subscription-based payment system should mean that you’re only ever using the latest and best incarnation. It’s often money well spent.

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Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.