What is a password manager and how does it work

A person in a wheelchair working at a computer.
(Image credit: Shutterstock: AnnaStills)

A password manager is a wonderfully efficient way of handling all your log-in details for multiple accounts. Therefore, considering how many of us have lots of passwords and seemingly endless arrays of locations where we need to gain access online, the password manager has to be one of the most handy computing solutions ever devised. 

Arming yourself with a password manager app lets you store all of your passwords in one easily accessible place and instantly removes the need to remember them all. Pretty handy given that one average some of us can have a hundred or so log-in credentials. You can get password manager software for any kind of device too, from smartphones and tablets through to laptops and desktop computers.

NordPass is a Techradar top-rated Password Manager

NordPass is a Techradar top-rated Password Manager
Protecting your passwords is extremely important, and NordPass provides an accessible, competent, easy-to-use solution. Get NordPass Premium for two years at 33% off—only for $1.49 per month. 

Manage all of your passwords

The other bonus with using password manager software is it can handle both your personal log-in credentials as well as workplace ones too. Adding to that, it reduces the need for you to use the same password more than once, which is always a bad idea on the security front, even if it makes life easier for you to get into those frequently used locations online. 

Cybercriminals are quick to exploit this habit and, along with acquiring thousands of stolen passwords online, use such vulnerabilities to hack accounts. If you’re not diligent about your password security and other log-in details this can put you in a perilous place. Even if you’re very careful about keeping your passwords dynamic – as in changing them frequently – and super careful with log-in information, the risk of a security breach is always there.

Connected devices have passwords

Having so many more connected devices has merely added to the problem, with lots of us owning IoT devices around the home or office. Many of these feature poor security or don't have their default passwords updated occasionally if at all. Anything that is connected could be a way in for cybercriminals. Therefore, a password manager doesn't just seem like a good idea, it becomes virtually essential. 

Of course, when you sign up to many new websites and services there is often the requirement to come up with a great new password. You’ll be prompted to use a variety of letters and characters. Invariably, the system you’re setting up a log-in for will tell you if you’ve managed to create a good or even great one. Unfortunately, it’s another one to add to the pile, unless your password manager can take the weight off.

Password manager benefits

So, the benefits of a password manager are many and various. You don't have to memorize multiple passwords for starters but the software can also work as a password generator, to help with creating better ones too. A password manager can also help to spot phishing sites as well as allowing you to sort out a digital inheritance. This streamlines the process of handing over any log-in details to relatives should you pass away. 

There’s the convenience factor of having a password manager system in place too, especially if you work across a variety of devices, computers and operating systems. The best password manager can let you handle all of that stuff, and offer the freedom of being compatible with a variety of web browsers too. The icing on the cake is that a password manager can assist with keeping you safe from identity theft.

Is a password manager really safe?

Any computer system has the potential to be hacked, but password manager software is well-known for using military-grade encryption. That makes the likelihood of your password manager being cracked extremely unlikely. There are different types of password manager too, including those that are desktop-based and which store your data locally in an encrypted vault. 

Another option is to enlist the services of a cloud-cased password manager using a desktop app, mobile-based variation on the theme or simply having a web browser extension installed. Being cloud-based means your password data is stored remotely on a service providers system.

Is there an even simpler solution?

Lots of companies tend to favor the single sign-on or SSO route for employee accounts, as opposed to using a specific password manager app. This is useful in the respect that it lets employees call up one password log-in, which allows then to access software and applications quickly and easily. This method is also seen by many business owners as an efficient way of reducing the workload on hard-pressed IT departments who might spend much of their time helping workers with lost or forgotten passwords.

Using a password manager

Getting a password manager and configuring it to make your log-in life simpler couldn't be easier. However, no matter how good your password manager app is it is still best practice to create new ones whenever you need to. In fact, why not let the password manager software take the strain and do it for it you. The software has been engineered to create strong passwords whenever you need them and all you’ll need to do is have – and remember – one master password. 

For added security you’ll also want to enable two-factor (2FA) or, better still, multi-factor authentication (MFA), which helps lock down things even more securely. It’s common practice for many folks who use email on their smartphones, for example, and the same diligence should be employed when setting up your password manager software.

Free or paid-for password manager?

It’s never a good idea to scrimp on security, especially when you’ve got lots of personal data to hand that could cause you untold amounts of pain if it gets compromised. There are free password manager options out there, but as is the case with anything that doesn't have a price attached there are compromises. 

This could mean there’ll be less features, or annoying freemium features like built-in advertising. Worse still, that free password manager that seems too god to be true might be just that. In a worse case scenario it might not end up being quite as secure as you’d hope for. Ditch the false economy and spend some money on a tried and trusted password manager solution – it’ll be well worth it.

We've featured the best business password managers.

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.