Best password managers
Our everyday tasks are increasingly being done online. That usually means having multiple accounts for various services, with lots of different passwords to manage.
We often cope by choosing weak, easy-to-remember passwords or by re-using the same favourite ones across lots of websites. That’s not secure, as criminals can guess your passwords, or plunder them via .
Password managers are marketed as the convenient, secure solution to these problems. Packages differ in terms of the features they offer, but they may:
- Securely store all your passwords for different accounts.
- Remember one password to access all websites and services.
- Share passwords and data with trusted friends and family.
- Securely store sensitive documents, such as your passport.
In the table below, we review two Best Buy password managers that won’t cost you a penny. Or, upgrade to the paid-for versions to get extra features and protections. We also have found a password manager that it’s best to avoid.
Best free password managers
Should I pay for a password manager?
You can also pay to upgrade to a premium package, but what do you get with paid password managers, and is it worth the extra cost? Premium password managers tend to offer a range of extra features, so it's worth considering which you'll find useful before you decide.
- Password sharing: This is the primary draw of premium password managers. It enables you to share passwords and other data securely with family and trusted contacts. You can also often grant emergency access to your accounts if the need arises.
- Unlimited password storage: Some free password managers enable you to store unlimited passwords, but not all do. You're almost guaranteed this with a paid-for package.
- Secure storage: You can often store sensitive or private data in your password manager vault, such as a scan of your passport, to access when you need it. Some password managers offer 1GB or more storage on the paid package.
- Multi-factor authentication: With premium services, you can usually use additional multi-factor security, such as the physical Yubikey USB device or the Google Authenticator two-factor authentication (2FA) service.
Best premium password managers
A password manager to avoid
Stay secure with a password manager
Password managers enhance password security in several ways. They make it simple to set up strong passwords for every website, including for new accounts. As each password is unique, this makes it harder for scammers to guess it.
Password managers should only autofill passwords on genuine website addresses, such as your bank, which reduces the chances of falling prey to a phishing attack.
Although the password manager is usually accessed online, your master password and the decryption key used to unlock the database never leave your computer. This helps to increase your online security.
All the password manager company ‘sees’ is a secure mathematical representation of the password, called a ‘hash’, which proves you’ve entered it correctly.
If you forget your master password, you can usually set up a back-up recovery method, often involving a secondary device such as a smartphone.
How to set up a password manager
After picking the password manager you want, you download the program to your Windows PC or Apple Mac computer. You set up an account with the chosen service and it should automatically install a plug-in for each supported browser – Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge.
If you want to use the password manager on your mobile device, you'll need to also download the companion Android or Apple iOS app to your smartphone and/or tablet.
You will need to set a master password that will be used to gain access to the encrypted password database. Ensure this password is strong yet also memorable to you.
The next job is to import or add passwords to the empty database by visiting your favourite websites and entering your credentials as normal, at which point the password manager offers to remember them for you. Each time you visit a site after that, it will autofill your login credentials.
How we test password managers
We run password managers through rigorous tests to see how easy they are to use and how effectively they safeguard your online security.
Our tests cover setting up and using the password managers on a computer (both PC and Mac), as well as on an Android or Apple iOS mobile device (including the app and mobile web interface).
We assess the core features of a password manager, such as password generation, browser extensions and auto form fillers, along with more premium features, such as secure sharing of passwords and other data.
We also do a full assessment of the security of the password managers, and how they handle your private data.
The test score is based on:
- Ease of use on desktop (40%)
- Specifications (20%)
- Ease of use on mobile (20%)
- Security (20%)
A password manager has to score more than 70% to be named a Best Buy.