A password manager is a piece of software that remembers passwords, so you don’t have to. By remembering a single master password, all of your other passwords are stored securely for retrieval as and when you need them.
Everyone should attempt to store their passwords securely. Along with two-factor authentication, it’s one of the best practices for locking down your precious online accounts. But which password manager is right for you?
Today we’ll try to answer that question.
Best Free Password Managers
Want to keep your accounts secure but can’t afford to cough up for a paid solution? Sometimes security doesn’t cost a penny.
KeePass is a lightweight open-source password manager. The official KeePass client is designed for Windows (with a portable version available). However, there are countless alternative projects that allow you to use KeePass on just about every platform.
The KeePass client stores your credentials in a database file. This encrypted file is protected by a master password or keyfile. KeePass is a bare-bones solution to credential management, and it lacks many of the fancy features found in proprietary subscription apps.
There’s no in-built sync between the version of KeePass you run on your desktop computer and your smartphone. If you want access to the same database on another device, you’ll have to share it manually using cloud storage solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive. This is easy enough to do, but it’s a somewhat manual process that isn’t for everyone.
KeePass can store your various passwords within folders or categories, with fields for information such as usernames, passwords, and additional notes. Some clients include secure password generators, the ability to export the contents of your database to other formats, AutoType support for filling in web forms, and plugins.
Bitwarden is another open-source password manager, but one that also offers a premium option. Unlike the “try before you buy” premium services listed below, Bitwarden doesn’t impose limits or restrictions on free accounts.
The service is an online affair. Register for a Bitwarden account then download the client for your platform of choice. Syncing is handled by the server, and you can host your own version of Bitwarden’s cloud service if you want. There’s no need to share database files via third-party cloud services, as is the case with KeePass.
There’s excellent support for a wide range of platforms, including clients for Windows, Mac and Linux. There are also browser plugins for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge among others to provide access to relevant passwords where required. If you get stuck and need a password, you can login to Bitwarden’s web vault and access your credentials from there.
Another advantage over KeePass is the ability to store four different types of sensitive information: login credentials, debit or credit card information, identity documents, and secure notes. You can further organize these entries by folder, add favorites, or search the database.
Download: Bitwarden (Free)
LastPass is now free to use on any device, anywhere. Previously LastPass only offered their free service for a single device, which meant you had to subscribe if you wanted to sync passwords between devices. This is no longer the case, since you can use LastPass to store all of your passwords and have them sync to any device, free of charge.
There still exists a premium service for $2 per month which provides 1GB of encrypted file storage, customer support, and biometric authentication. LastPass Free also includes adverts in the vault, which the premium $36/year package removes. For a free solution that handles all of the technical details for you, it’s a steal.
LastPass allows you to store both website login credentials and secure notes within your account. Notes can have a more specific label applied such as software license, social security number, or Wi-Fi password. It’s also possible to add “form fills” to LastPass to add information to web forms for identification, shipping, payment, and other circumstances.
With such a great free option, you’d be justified in wondering why you’d ever give any money to LastPass.
The answer might be in features like emergency access (for enabling others to have access to your accounts in exceptional circumstances), one-to-many sharing for sharing credentials with multiple other users, and advanced multi-factor authentication for added security.
Download: LastPass (Free)
Best Premium Password Managers
If you’re willing to subscribe to a password manager, you’ll get a few additional nice features that make life a little easier.
One of the longest-running password managers, 1Password switched from a steep one-off fee to a modest subscription model a few years ago. You can now try 1Password free for 30-days, after which you will be charged the equivalent of $2.99 per month annually, or $4.99 for a family package of up to five members.
1Password has excellent native apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Chrome OS. The level of polish outshines freebies like KeePass, with labels for various services, multiple vaults per account, and the ability to view an entry’s old passwords. Syncing between different instances of 1Password is handled automatically using the company’s own servers.
Password organization is pretty straightforward, with categories used to separate a wide range of different entries. Store logins, payment details, documents, bank account credentials, secure notes and more. Use the 1Password extension for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari to gain access to your password repository while browsing the web.
1Password isn’t open-source, but the company maintains transparency in many of its processes. Anything stored in your 1Password database is encrypted using your master password and a secret key before being uploaded to the company’s servers. This means even if the servers are breached, the data is still safe.
Download: 1Password (Free trial, subscription required)
Dashlane is a premium password manager with a decent free option. You can store up to 50 passwords on a single device for free. If you want to sync your passwords with other devices (like a smartphone) then you’ll have to sign up for the equivalent of a $3.33 monthly charge, billed annually.
For your money you’ll get an unlimited amount of password storage, complete with automatic syncing. Simply login to the Dashlane apps and all of your credentials will be there. The app can store and generate passwords, and autofill your information on both desktop and mobile.
Your premium subscription also provides you with access to Dashlane’s own VPN, and Dark Web Monitoring. The former allows you to connect to a virtual private network in order to encrypt your web traffic. This prevents even your ISP from seeing what you are sending or downloading online.
Dark Web Monitoring scans the dark web for any leaked or stolen personal data that may pertain to you. In case of anything being found Dashlane will notify you with a plan of action. In this regard, Dashlane feels more like a personal security suite than a simple password manager, and it’s not badly priced either.
Download: Dashlane (Free)
Best Password Manager for iPhone and Apple Users
Surprised to learn that iOS and macOS come with an in-built password manager? It’s convenient, free to use, and comes with its own benefits and drawbacks that potential users should know about.
If you use Apple hardware exclusively, iCloud Keychain could be the solution for you. You can enable the feature by turning on Keychain under iCloud preferences on iOS and macOS.
Once you’ve done so, Safari will offer to store passwords for you as you enter them. If you register for any new accounts, Keychain will offer to generate secure passwords and store them immediately.
iCloud Keychain works in both Safari and at a system level on macOS and iOS. Many iOS apps are able to query Keychain for credentials, filling in passwords and logins once you’ve been authenticated with Face ID and Touch ID.
If you need access to your master list of passwords you can do so under Settings > Safari > Passwords. (Safari > Preferences > Passwords on macOS.) Since the service uses iCloud, all of your credentials are stored and synced securely, across your Apple devices. There is no iCloud Keychain app for Windows or other platforms.
Don’t forget: iOS apps also exist for both the premium and free solutions listed in this article. Check out our recommendations for the best iPhone password managers.
Best Password Manager for Android Users
Like Apple’s iCloud Keychain, Google also has a proprietary service that allows Android and ChromeOS users to store
Google Smart Lock
Smart Lock is Google’s equivalent to iCloud Keychain. The service works on Android smartphones, ChromeOS, and in the Chrome desktop browser. If you can use the Chrome browser, you can use Google Smart Lock to save and sync your credentials.
The service is enabled by default in that Android, ChromeOS, and Chrome will offer to save and store your passwords. When you use another instance of Chrome, your passwords will be automatically available to you.
You can view your master list of passwords by clicking on your profile and selecting Passwords in the Chrome browser. Like Apple’s solution, Google Smart Lock is purely for login credentials—you cannot store other sensitive information (like notes or software keys) in Smart Lock.
Don’t forget: Android apps also exist for both the premium and free solutions listed in this article. Check out our recommendations for the best Android password managers.
Other Ways to Secure Your Accounts
Two-factor authentication (2FA) should be enabled on your accounts wherever possible. This uses something you know (your password) and something you have (usually your smartphone) to prove your identity, but even 2FA is susceptible to attacks.
Instead of using SMS or 2FA apps (like Authenticator) to generate codes, the most secure way of using 2FA is with a universal second-factor key. Most of us still use 2FA though, and that’s fine because 2FA is still better than a simple username and password combination.