Passwords are one of those ‘necessary evils’ of life, in that everyone that has a computer uses them, yet, nobody really likes them. After all, while we all accept when a bank needs login credentials, but way too many sites currently require login credentials these days, and this can quickly become a speed bump when surfing the internet. Users can easily get into ‘password fatigue’ and the problem becomes where to keep all these passwords stored safely. After all, Post-its stuck to the bezel of the monitor with random passwords is not exactly a high level of security.
With modern browsers, such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla FireFox, all have the ability to store and enter passwords. In the category of software password managers, they are the entry level, and as the browser is free, and this function is thrown in, it certainly has the value proposition covered. However, before you entrust your favorite browser the login credentials for your favorite offshore bank account, let’s examine this more closely before jumping in with both feet.
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An integrated browser password manager can be an attractive option. Here are some reasons why folks do use them:
Password generation: Passwords need a certain complexity and length in order to be protective. They also should not be a dictionary word, with a combo of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. It should also be of sufficient length, with the current recommendation to be at least 12 characters, with some users going to 15 or even 20 characters in length for peace of mind. If this sounds like a chore to create a strong password of sufficient complexity, it really is, and a browser based password generator can take over this task.
Device synchronization: Every internet user accesses the web on multiple devices, whether computers, smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, and on different platforms. Having the passwords available on only a single device is not particularly useful as users go back and forth. With a browser based password manager, the passwords get stored in the cloud, and automatically synchronize between the various devices used.
Ease of use: Getting stopped at a website requesting login credentials can be a significant hamper to getting the task done, especially a site that only gets visited infrequently. There is satisfaction in encountering the login for a rarely visited site, clicking on the password box, and watching the password that no user would remember from a year ago automatically populate as it is saved in the web browser, and voilà, access is granted! Finally, as you already have the browser installed, you do not need to install anything additionally.
Absolutely free: All the major browsers at this point have the capability to save passwords native in the software without even a plugin needed, making this the major attraction. With inflation increasing costs of everything daily, it makes this an attractive value.
Convenience: Installing a piece of software should not place much of a burden on anyone, especially with the ease of which apps can be installed on a smartphone or tablet through the respective stores for the iPhone or Android platforms. However it is an extra step, and from a convenience standpoint, it is hard to beat using the integrated password manager of a browser. After all, it is already there, and ready to go.
Just like everything else in life, “The dog comes with the fleas,” and there are some downsides as well to a software based browser solution. Before you entrust them with your info, let’s delve deeper into the shortcomings of this convenient, but perhaps not best solution.
Tied to the browser: Users tend to have multiple browsers installed on their devices, and use them for various purposes as no browser is great for every purpose. However, with a browser based password manager, the passwords get locked into a single browser, and the user will need to stick to a single browser or not have their passwords.
Data breach scanner: Data breaches are a constant event, with passwords compromised frequently. Dedicated password software, to protect against these compromising events, scans the Dark Web where these login credentials get sold. This can then identify compromised passwords, and will subsequently inform a user if their password is coming up, to prompt for a change in login credentials. Unfortunately, the browser based solution comes up short in this important task.
Security: The entire point of a password is to protect your data, hence why you are not supposed to share your login credentials… with anyone… ever. Web browser software is designed to optimize web browsing, with a secure environment as an afterthought. Some browsers indicate that the passwords are encrypted, for example Google Chrome indicates that they use AES 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption for passwords. However, while the encryption level is high that Chrome is using, the overall security will be better with a dedicated software solution. After all, would you rather trust your passwords to a dedicated software provider, or the search engine giant known for big data-mining?
App access: Browser based password managers supply access within the specific browser environment. However, what happens when you go to your smartphone, open an app, and need the login credentials for your bank or supermarket? In these types of situations, there will be no support, but a dedicated password manager can handle this scenario.
A browser based password manager is really the entry level tier into the world of password software. While it offers a basic level of functionality, as we delve deeper into it, the weaknesses become apparent. Just as Windows 10S is a functional OS for the most basic of needs, once users realize what is possible, they move on to a dedicated password manager, and the myriad of functions that it provides for.
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Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.