Do you want to keep your money and your identity safe? Do you worry about getting hacked or having your identity stolen? Let’s have some real talk about passwords, and just how important they are to your online security.
If you’re already using a password manager and have strong, unique passwords for all of your online accounts, then job well done! You’re likely already following all of the below advice. But you may want to share this information with friends or family who are wondering how they too can improve their online security, stop struggling with passwords, and decide whether a password manager is right for them.
Passwords Are Your Digital Keys
Because passwords are everywhere – and incredibly annoying – we often forget the important purpose they serve. Passwords are the keys to your digital life. In the same way that you have a key to lock your door when you leave your house, and a key to lock your car, and a key to your office building, your passwords “lock” your online accounts. They ensure that you are who you say you are, and should be allowed access to something.
Passwords also your first – and oftentimes, only – protection in keeping other people out. Passwords may be the only thing standing between your money or your identity, and those who wish to abuse or steal them.
All that’s to say, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of passwords in protecting the things you value. You should treat them with the same care as you would the keys to your house or car.
How Many Logins Do You *Really* Have?
Like most people, you’re probably online every day. You may switch between a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop and a laptop throughout any given day. When you go online, you probably visit a lot of websites that ask you to create accounts. Email, Facebook, Twitter, online banking, shopping, paying bills, gaming, video streaming, music streaming, fantasy leagues, Amazon. Not to mention the accounts you use only once or twice a year, like filing taxes or registering for classes.
It’s easy to see how the number of accounts you have quickly grows – as do the passwords you need to create and remember for all of them. Many of us underestimate just how many passwords we have, because we don’t have a good system for tracking and recording them. Once you do have a system, it’s often alarming to discover you easily have 50, 75, even 100 different online accounts.
Writing Passwords Down
To remember all those passwords, you may start off doing what’s easiest: Writing your passwords down. You may write them in a notebook, or in a Word doc saved to your desktop, or in a Note on your smartphone, or even as a “Contact” on your phone to try to be stealthy!
While writing your passwords down allows you to round up all of your logins and start getting a handle on how many accounts you have, it’s a very manual process. You need to make sure you write down any new account, and you need to constantly pull out your notebook or open that document to grab the password you need.
There’s no built in security – no encryption, no additional layers of protection, no backing up your paper notebook. Plus, writing down your passwords doesn’t at all encourage you to actually make your passwords themselves any stronger, or to change them every once in awhile.
Making Every Password Count
When you have so many passwords to remember, and simply write them down as needed, you end up doing what’s simplest: Using the same or similar password everywhere. But you probably can guess why that’s dangerous. If a website gets hacked, or your password for a website is stolen, it’s now really easy for hackers to try the same username and password combination at other popular websites. They’re always looking for a “quick win” to try to get to more valuable information, like your credit card, bank account, or even your medical records. Even if the one password you use for everything is very strong, it doesn’t mean anything if a website gets hacked and that password is suddenly out there in the dark depths of the web for anyone to try using.
The only way to make every password – every digital key – count, is to use a different, strong password for every single login you have. And not just a password that is a variation of one you’ve used before. A truly random, unique password.
A good strategy to achieve that is to create a passphrase for every single account. Passphrases pull together words, symbols and numbers from a phrase that has meaning to you, but would be difficult for someone else to guess – like “myvacation2paris-wasincredible”. Creating a passphrase for every single account will go a long way to improving your security, but writing them down and looking them up every single time can impact your productivity and workflow.
Having It All with a Password Manager
So let’s recap:
- Passwords are important to our online security.
- Most of us have way more passwords than we can ever manage on our own.
- We use the same password(s) everywhere because it’s convenient.
- We resort to writing our passwords down.
- We know these practices take up lots of time and can be insecure.
And now for the good news: There’s an app for that. And it’s called a “password manager”.
A password manager is just a software/app that organizes all of your passwords in one place. It provides security to protect those passwords, and then makes it a lot easier for you to have a different password for everything. It sounds kind of nerdy but when you talk to people who use password managers, they are very passionate about how much they love and recommend them.
Getting started with a password manager only requires two steps:
- Signing up for a new account, and
- A quick download to your browser, or getting the app for your phone
And good password managers (like LastPass) even make it easy to start adding things into your vault. Because the key benefit of a password manager is having all of those details – your usernames, passwords, PIN codes, and other digital miscellanea – in one place.
So how exactly does a password manager help?
- You’re not wasting time finding or remembering passwords
- All those annoying tasks – like writing down, creating, sharing, and typing in passwords – are automated for you
- Better passwords takes less work
- Your passwords and everything else you store in your vault is always available to you, no matter what device you’re using
- You have peace of mind that your passwords are locked up and safe
All Your Eggs in One Basket?
When moving to a password manager, one of the first concerns that comes up is security. You might be wondering, “Should I be putting all my eggs in one basket?” And, “Now I just have one master password, so if that’s stolen, they’ll get everything!”
Well, yes, you are putting all your passwords in one basket. But it’s a very, very safe basket. It’s the Fort Knox of baskets. At LastPass, password security is what we do, 24-7-365. We have layers upon layers upon layers of protection in place to protect your passwords. And because this is what we are dedicated to, we can do far more than most individuals ever can when it comes to keeping their data safe.
Part of that is because, when you store things in your vault, it’s encrypted with a key that’s never sent to us. Think of it like a box with a big old padlock. You put everything you want to keep safe in that box. When you’re ready to store it, you lock up that box, and send it to us. You still have the key in your hand (your master password) and we just hold the box for you, all locked up.
We even add more locks and more boxes, so it’s even harder to get to the things in your box. Not only that, but if someone were to smash through all those layers (which would take lifetimes, by the way) and open your box, the pieces would all be mashed up and totally unreadable. Only with your original key (your master password) would all those pieces fit together again to reveal your passwords and the other data in your vault.
But what if they steal the master password? Well, the first recommendation is to never use your master password for anything else. That just makes it easier to steal. But you can also take advantage of other things like multifactor authentication, to add another login step before access is granted to the vault. And any time someone logs in from a new device or location, they have to first verify the new access before they can get in.
Taking the leap
Unfortunately, passwords aren’t going away. Yes, there are lots of ways tech companies are trying to eliminate passwords (including us!). In the meantime, there are just too many passwords to deal with and they’ll be around for a while. Dealing with passwords is costing us too much in lost productivity, unnecessary stress, and added confusion. And sadly, we live in a time where data breaches are on the rise and pose a very real threat to your money and private information.
All that’s to say, it’s never been a better time to sign up for a password manager. You can start saving yourself time (and sanity) while also giving your security a boost. We promise, you’ll soon wonder how you survived this long without one.