With everything from your online account at Macy’s to your online banking account needing a password, it’s difficult to keep track of them all. Password managers are a convenient way to store data, but how do they work?
Web-based password managers store your information on an online cloud that is typically hosted by the provider’s server. The data is then accessible from any internet-connected device that you have as long as the device is compatible with the password manager.
In this article, we will cover everything that you need to know about password managers and how they sync your data across all of your devices. Additionally, we will look at if password managers are safe to use and which types of password managers are the best.
How Do Password Managers Store My Data?
In order to understand how password managers sync data across your devices, you must first understand how password managers store your data.
A password manager stores your data in a secure, online location. When you use a password manager you are essentially storing your passwords on your provider’s server, which is accessible via the internet.
There are different levels of security in transferring the data from your device to the provider’s server, but the important thing to know is that your password data is being transferred to your device to an online server.
How Does a Password Manager Sync Passwords Across My Devices?
If you are storing your password on an online password manager, you will be able to access all of the passwords that you’ve stored on any compatible device.
In most cases, you just need to remember the one password to access the password manager and then the service will be able to either autofill or provide your passwords for you.
How Safe is My Information When Using a Password Manager?
So you might be wondering how safer your passwords are if they are all saved online. It really depends on the type of password manager that you are using.
There are three places where your passwords can be stolen:
- Where they are stored on your computer
- During the transfer from your computer to the provider’s server
- Within the provider’s server
The best password managers will encrypt your information in all three places. This means that the only time your password is in its raw form is when it’s actually entered into the account you are trying to access.
Your passwords are most at risk when you use password managers that:
- Save an unencrypted version on your device
- Save an unencrypted version of your password on their server
If an unencrypted version of your password is stored on your device and your hard drive is not encrypted, then it is fairly easy for someone to hack your computer and steal your passwords.
Likewise, if the company is storing an unencrypted version of your password on their server, then anyone who has access to the company server can steal your password.
How Do Password Managers Encrypt Your Password?
The gold standard for encrypting passwords is 256-bit AES encryption. NSA and pretty much any large corporation uses this encryption method to protect their data.
While we won’t go into too much detail about how encryption works, it’s important to understand that your password is encrypted and secured using a 256-bit key. This means that in order to “unlock” your password you need to know the string of random 0s and 1s that are randomly generated.
There are 2^256 possible combinations. This makes it extremely hard to guess or brute-force the correct key.
Which Type of Online Password Manager Should I Use?
It’s best to use a third-party manager rather than a built-in browser manager. While browser managers are convenient because they are accessible from any device that you have the browser installed on, they are often less secure.
Third-party password managers often offer better security and additional useful features. For example, they’ll often provide a random password generator, which will help your passwords stay more secure when stored on the site where your account is located.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using an Online Password Manager?
Passwords managers are pretty much an essential part of daily life now. It’s impossible to remember all of the passwords for every online account that you have and reusing the same password leaves you vulnerable. Some benefits of a password manager include:
- Not having to remember several passwords
- Not needing to type in your passwords (most password managers have auto-fill)
- Keeping your passwords in a secure location
- Multi-factor authentication
While password managers have several benefits, they also do have their disadvantages. Some cons of password managers include:
- Trusting a company with your information
- Susceptible to hacking
- Linked to the internet
While password managers do have their risks, the convenience and security offered by them far outweigh the negatives.
Can I Use a Local Password Manager?
If you are truly worried about the potential of your passwords being hacked while being stored on a cloud, there is an alternative. You can use a password manager that just stores your passwords on your local computer.
The benefit to this is that your information never gets stored on the internet, so the only way to steal your passwords is to actually steal your physical device.
The main downside of using a local password manager is that your passwords don’t get synced across multiple devices. So if you only use one device, then a local password manager could potentially be a better option than an online password manager.
Should I Use a Password Manager?
You may still be wondering if an online password manager is the best option for me? The answer is almost always undoubtedly yes.
If you use a third-party password manager that offers top-of-the-line security, then your passwords are as safe as they can be.
If you’re worried about storing your password online, don’t be. If you have any type of internet account, your password is already stored online on that company’s server using the same type of protection that good password managers use.
Therefore, unless you plan on getting rid of all of your online accounts, a password manager is the best way to conveniently store your information while keeping it secure.