Password managers: A little pain for a lot of security

Password managers: A little pain for a lot of security

They’re your friend, or at least a helpful acquaintance.

If you’re one of the countless people who unwisely use easy-to-guess passwords or reuse a password for several accounts, cybersecurity experts have a message for you: It isn’t your fault. Memorizing a unique, complex password for each account is impossible.

But that’s exactly the sort of chore computers are good at. That’s why many cybersecurity experts suggest using a password manager. It’s a software utility that securely stores passwords and automatically fills them into login pages. They help you protect every single one of your online accounts with a strong password.

“I recommend everyone use it,” said Matias Woloski, chief technology officer of authentication firm Auth0 and an expert in password security. “Password managers are today the best alternative.”

You’d probably benefit from password manager help. The most-used password found in data breaches is still “123456”, according to data from cybersecurity firm SplashData, and the second most common password is, of course, “password”. The average person uses only 13 unique passwords, and almost a third said they only use two or three passwords for all their accounts, according to a 2018 survey from antivirus software company McAfee.

For a broader look at the situation, check this week’s CNET coverage of today’s password problems, including improvements like security keys and the shortcomings of two-factor authentication.

You’ve got several password manager options. There are dedicated tools like LastPass, BitWarden, Dashlane, Keeper and 1Password. Web browsers including Safari, Chrome and Firefox also have built-in password controls that are more limited, especially if you use multiple browsers, but they’re getting more sophisticated.

Unfortunately, password managers can be complex and don’t always work smoothly with websites and apps. That might be why only 3% of internet users rely primarily on password managers, according to the Pew Research Institute. Woloski suggests you get started with help from someone more technical.

Still, password managers can help you navigate the internet with a lot less risk. Even though the tech industry is finally coming up with real alternatives to passwords, and ways to dump them altogether, you’ll still have to reckon with dozens of them, or hundreds, for years to come. Password managers can help, even if they aren’t perfect

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