Best password managers: Secure your accounts and never forget your login details again

·12-min read
We tested security credentials, user-friendliness and compatibility across devices (iStock)
We tested security credentials, user-friendliness and compatibility across devices (iStock)

The most common password in the world is “123456”.

Chances are – if you’re not already using a good password manager – your own password isn’t much stronger than that. People tend to use familiar words and dates to make their passwords easier to remember: things like their pet’s name followed by the year they were born, or their favourite football team followed by a rude word, or their favourite food with a couple of the letters swapped out for digits.

These types of password are relatively straightforward for a hacker to guess, whether by snooping around your social media pages or by using brute force – that is, cycling through every possible word combination in the dictionary until the correct password is eventually found. Password managers are applications that generate strong passwords made up of long strings of randomised characters, making this kind of hacking attempt futile.

An even worse habit is our tendency to recycle the same password across multiple sites, so that when one account is compromised by a hacker, the rest of your accounts fall like dominoes. In an age when we rely so heavily on the internet to do everything from grocery shopping to banking, losing access to your accounts can be devastating. Password managers help here, too, by storing all of your unique, impossible-to-guess passwords for every site you use, and then automatically filling in your login details for you as you browse the web.

Put simply, your brain is a terrible place to store important information. Password managers are safe; they work across most browsers and on your phone, and they’re not very complicated to set up and use. Some of the very best ones are free as well, so you really should start using one.

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To help you decide which password manager is best for you, we tested the best free and paid-for services and rated them based on their security credentials, user-friendliness and compatibility across devices. While the basic functionality is the same across most password managers, some password managers offer additional features and benefits, which we’ll also dive into.

The best password managers in the UK for 2021 are:

Google Password Manager: Free, Passwords.google.com

 (Google)
(Google)

Best: For Chrome users

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: No

  • Works with: Chrome, Android

  • Pros: Seamless integration with the browser, synchronises everywhere you use Google

  • Cons: Pretty basic, not as seamless for iPhone users

Google has a decent free password manager built right into the Chrome browser.

While not as feature-rich as a dedicated password manager, Google’s password manager is completely free and nails the basics. Whenever you sign in or register an account with a new password, a pop-up notification will appear, asking you if you’d like to save your username and password to your Google account. Then, when you next sign in, the username and password boxes will be pre-filled with your saved details.

The useful Password Checkup feature can scan through your saved passwords for reused or weak passwords, as well as any that it knows have been leaked somewhere online. It’s a good tool for staying on top of accounts you don’t use often and might have forgotten about. When creating accounts, Google can suggest a strong password for you, which is immediately saved to your account so that you never even lay eyes on it.

The main drawback is that Google Password Manager is an exclusive feature of Chrome and Android, so while it works beautifully in the Chrome browser on desktop and mobile, as well as in Android apps, it can’t pre-fill login details in Firefox, Safari or Edge, and it can’t be used to automatically log into desktop applications. For those, you need to manually jump into your saved passwords and copy and paste your login details over.

However, if you’re a dedicated Chrome user and you’ve got an Android phone, Google Password Manager might be all you need.

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NordPass: Free, Nordpass.com

 (Nordpass)
(Nordpass)

Best: Simple password manager

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: Yes

  • Works with: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS

  • Pros: Slick interface, generous free version

  • Cons: No password checkup feature in free version

NordPass is a straightforward password manager from the developers of NordVPN, one of the world’s most popular virtual private networks.

It’s got a slick interface and integrates neatly with browsers and mobile apps, using a simple one-click system to generate, save and store your strong passwords easily. A handy import function can locate and download any existing passwords your browser might be storing, then secure them in an encrypted password vault for later use.

Read more: Looking for a VPN? Read our full NordVPN review here

NordPass is highly compatible with browsers, and has extensions available for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Brave, Opera and Safari. Outside the browser, the NordPass app can handle any logins that aren’t web-based on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. You can also store private notes, credit card details and addresses in your vault, and use biometric details such as facial recognition to quickly access your stuff.

The free tier is decent, and has most of the features an everyday user might need. The paid version includes a data-breach scanner, which can tell you if your login credentials have been spilled online somewhere, and has the ability to keep you logged into sites and apps across multiple devices.

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1Password: From $2.99 per month, 1Password.com

 (1Password)
(1Password)

Best: Mobile password manager

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: Yes

  • Works with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox

  • Pros: Two-factor authentication, works across platforms, easy to use

  • Cons: Only the family plan supports password sharing

1Password is a paid service costing $2.99 per month, which is billed annually. For your money, you get a safe, secure and easy-to-use password manager that works across most platforms, including Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux and Chrome OS. You also get 1GB of secure online document storage.

A single 1Password membership allows you to use the app on as many different devices as you like, so you can easily cover your work laptop, tablets, phones and any other devices you’ve got around the house. 1Password is compatible with biometric logins – that is, fingerprint and facial recognition on phones and laptops – so you can access your passwords using nothing but your face.

As well as standard password support and features, all 1Password accounts get their digital security checked regularly by the 1Password Watchtower. This automatically checks to see if login credentials have been leaked somewhere online, and then warns you to change your passwords for any affected accounts. 1Password also has a digital wallet for securely storing credit and debit card information; login details for payment websites such as your bank, building society, or PayPal are kept protected too.

If you’re passing through border security and you’re afraid an officer might want to snoop around on your phone, 1Password lets you switch to “travel mode”, which removes your passwords from your device and only returns them once you’re somewhere safe again.

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Dashlane: From £2.40 per month, Dashlane.com

 (Dashlane)
(Dashlane)

Best: For security

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: Yes

  • Works with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox

  • Pros: VPN support, dark web scanning, supports universal second-factor keys

  • Cons: Higher price point

Dashlane is a password manager for the security conscious. It offers two-factor authentication to log into your account, meaning nobody else will be able to access your passwords without already having access to one of your other devices. Dashlane is also the first password manager to use universal second-factor security keys. These are small USB dongles containing a unique encrypted key that proves you are who you say you are when using your computer.

While no service can ever claim to be unhackable, Dashlane is backed up by some strong security credentials. It uses 256-bit advanced encryption standard (AES) to scramble your password vault, and only ever stores your passwords locally – meaning that even if Dashlane’s servers are hacked, your password details won’t be leaked.

Even with all these security bells and whistles, Dashlane remains easy to use. It lets you synchronise your passwords across all devices, monitors the dark web for data breaches – after which it will send you an alert that your logins need changing – and also includes a VPN for secure browsing if you’re using a Wi-Fi hotspot. Dashlane can also automatically change your passwords for you on about 300 popular sites, which is especially useful if you’ve been using the same password everywhere.

It is a slightly more expensive option than other password managers in this list, but if you want to browse the web with absolute confidence, Dashlane comes highly recommended.

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LastPass: From £2.60 per month, Lastpass.com

 (LastPass)
(LastPass)

Best: For families

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: Yes

  • Works with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox

  • Pros: Strong password sharing, easy to use, works across multiple platforms

  • Cons: Lacklustre free tier

LastPass rubbed users up the wrong way after removing some key features from its free version, but its premium offering still makes it one of the best password manager services around, especially if you’re sharing passwords across multiple users.

If you’ve ever needed to share a password with a trusted friend or family member, you might have been hesitant to broadcast your password over email or text, as naked as the day it was generated. LastPass’s family tier makes it easy and safe to share passwords and login details with up to six other users, and across as many devices as you want.

There are multiple ways to share passwords between people. Exclusive to the paid version of LastPass are unlimited shared folders, which let you pick and choose which of your passwords should be available for friends and family to see. LastPass also offers a family manager dashboard, giving other users their own personal password vault with synchronised sharing between various accounts.

Like many others, LastPass also monitors the dark web for password breaches, and even has its own app for two-factor authentication. If you’re happy to pay for the privilege, it’s one of the best password managers out there.

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Bitwarden: Free, Bitwarden.com

 (Bitwarden)
(Bitwarden)

Best: Free password manager

  • Two-factor authentication: Yes

  • Secure password sharing: Yes, with premium version

  • Works with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox

  • Pros: Free tier offers great service, syncs across multiple devices, open source

  • Cons: Desktop app needs more features

While we would always advise paying for a VPN (and avoiding free VPNs like the plague), some of the very best password managers are free, safe and highly recommended. Bitwarden is one such password manager, and matches many of the features of its premium rivals while charging nothing.

Bitwarden includes a secure password generator as well as two-factor authentication – a security method that makes you prove who you are by asking for a code sent by SMS or (for premium users) prompting you to insert a physical USB dongle that only you possess. Bitwarden also synchronises across multiple devices, so any passwords you create on your phone also show up on your tablet, PC and laptop.

Paying customers can add unlimited friends and family to their Bitwarden plan and enjoy a modest 1GB of encrypted file attachments, which is a useful feature for security-conscious businesses.

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Password manager FAQs

Where are my passwords stored?

Password managers keep passwords stored in a “vault” that can only be opened using the combination of secret key and master password on first login from a device. It can then be opened using only the master password on subsequent attempts on the device.

Many password managers also feature a companion app for iPhones or Android devices, using biometric information such as fingerprint scanners or facial recognition services to quickly log in to other apps. When logging in to a social media site, the password manager will pop up and ask for your face or fingerprint – log in, and it will automatically fill your name, password and any other necessary information.

Some premium password managers offer different “vaults” for family or businesses, meaning that you can keep certain passwords private while sharing others safely with those who need them.

How do I switch password managers?

Many password managers have a tool that allows you to export data for use on another site. This usually means downloading the data as a CSV file – a type of spreadsheet file – and importing it into another service.

Are password managers safe?

As well as the aforementioned master password and the secret key – a long string of information that is unique to your account and very difficult to copy – password manager services keep your information encrypted using high-measure protocols, meaning that should a malicious individual access the company servers, the only data they would be able to access would be unintelligible to them.

Moreover, while these hackers have a range of tools at their disposal to try and get your personal information, companies can add behind-the-scenes prevention methods such as phishing nets to stop you unintentionally giving away personal data, and keylogger prevention that stops software from tracking your keystrokes and working out your password from that.

Hackers have also been known to recreate browsers to deceive users, so these companies can also block their auto-filling service on websites that have not been digitally signed by the correct developer – something that hackers would struggle to recreate.

The verdict: Password managers

More often than not, the free versions of downloadable software are limited in what they can do. But when it comes to password managers, we’d advise grabbing a free password manager to begin with, then only upgrading to a paid password manager if you think you need the additional features.

Bitwarden is the best free password manager right now. For families or groups of friends sharing a single Netflix login, we’d recommend LastPass for its super flexible and secure password-sharing features.

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