Password managers: What they are and how they keep your accounts secure

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
WEST LAFAYETTE,  – 

Almost every website or online service we use requires a username and password. How many passwords do you have? 20? 200? You need to remember Windows network logons, your e-mail accounts, website member accounts, etc., just to name a few. Do you use different passwords or the same one everywhere? While it’s always best practice to use a strong, unique password for every site, and change each one on a regular basis, few of us actually do.

So just how do you remember all of your passwords? Well, you don’t. You use a password manager.

A password manager is an easy-to-use software application that stores and organizes passwords for the user. Password managers usually store the passwords in encrypted form, requiring the user to create a master password, a single, very strong password which grants the user access to their entire password database. Some password managers store the passwords on the user’s computer (locally) whereas others store this data in the cloud. Although the password manager’s main function is to securely store large collections of passwords, many offer additional features such as automated form-filling, secure random password generation, and the ability to use multifactor authentication (adding a second login step).

Most password managers install as a browser plug-in, handling password capture and replay. When you log into a secure site, the password manager offers to save your credentials. When you return to that site, it offers to automatically fill in those credentials. Some password managers have portable versions that can be run from a USB memory stick on other PCs or mobile devices. Since it can be difficult to enter complex passwords on your smartphone’s tiny keyboard, most password managers also sync across all of your Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices. 

Now that you don’t have to remember all your passwords, you can create strong passwords that combine a minimum of twelve different characters such as numbers, punctuation marks, and upper/lower case letters. Or just let the password manager generate a secure, random one that makes it more difficult for hackers, malware, and cyber-thieves to break into your accounts.

Password managers also can help protect against phishing, pharming, and keystroke-logging malware. You’ll find more than a dozen password manager options out there, some free and upgradable to paid premium versions. “Last Pass” and “KeePass” are two examples of free password managers available online.*

*PHA does not recommend or endorse any specific products.


Citations

Rubenking, Neil J. "The Best Password Managers for 2015." PCMAG. Ziff Davis, 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 May 2015.

"Password Manager." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 27 May 2015.

Klosowski, Thorin. "Lifehacker Faceoff: The Best Password Managers, Compared." Lifehacker. Lifehacker.com, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 May 2015.

Crawford, Stephanie.  "How Password Management Software Works"  27 September 2011. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/password-management-software.htm>  27 May 2015.


Writer: Doug Welks, 765-494-0768, dwelks@purdue.edu

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907 (765) 496-1911

© 2014 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints

If you have trouble accessing this page because of a disability, please contact Purdue Technical Assistance Program taphelp@purdue.edu.