How secure are password manager tools?
Password managers are software applications that install onto your Internet browser, your computer or your mobile device to help organize and secure your online account passwords. How secure are these password manager tools, if you are going to trust them to store your passwords for all of your online accounts?
Without a doubt, password managers are more secure than simply writing passwords on a sheet of paper, or saving them in your internet browser only. For example, most popular internet browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari) often will ask if you wish to save your passwords as you use them. This can be convenient, but it’s not secure.
The reason it’s not secure is that if anyone else uses the same device you’ve used and uses the internet browser, your passwords will be stored. So if they go to log into an account, by default, they can log into your account because the browser will save your password to log you in the next time. If you don’t share your device with anyone but it would get stolen, for example, your online accounts could be extremely vulnerable if that person would use the internet browser on the device.
How do password managers secure your passwords?
There are multiple ways that password managers secure your passwords. Password managers use encryption to protect your passwords. Most use AES 256-bit encryption, the industry standard. It’s the encryption that is used by the military, and is virtually impossible to crack. Password managers organize and save all of your passwords, and then store them behind this layer of encryption.
Secondly, most password managers will ask you to use a master password for accessing your vault.This master password is one that only you, the account owner, know. Password managers are created with Zero-Knowledge Technology, meaning that even the software developers that create the application have zero knowledge or ability to log into your password manager account without having your master password.
The third reason password managers are secure is because most of them offer the ability to add two factor authentication. This is an additional layer of security beyond the AES 256-bit encryption. Two-factor authentication means that your identity must be confirmed in two ways before you can log into your account. Without having access to both, an intruder cannot get into your password manager account.
Finally, password managers have multiple features aimed at securing your passwords. Some will remind you to change the passwords regularly and evaluate their strength. Others will scan the dark web to check if any of your logins appeared online. And some will do both, and then some.
What are the risks of using a password manager?
One risk is that by using a password manager, you will be storing all your sensitive data in one place. Your data in a password manager could include credit card details and secure notes or files. In case of a breach, changing passwords for all accounts and blocking your credit cards might take enough time for the attacker to do damage.
Another risk is that backup is not always possible. If the server breaks down, your only hope is that your provider has made a backup copy of your password manager account. This risk increases if you decide to keep your vault offline on one of your devices.
Password managers can be hacked if your device is infected with malware. In this case, typing the master password will get it recorded, and cybercriminals will gain full access to the data stored.
Despite the concerns in the risks listed above, good password managers are extremely difficult to compromise. The usage of AES-256 encryption, the “zero-knowledge” technique, and the possibility to use two-factor authentication make password managers a much safer and easier option than basically anything else available at the moment.
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