LastPass (opens in new tab), the most popular cloud-based password manager, was free for desktop but still required users to pay if they wanted their password to sync with their mobile devices. This likely turned away many users from adopting a password manager.
The company announced that the mobile versions of its password manager are now also free. Users should now have few excuses left for not using a password manager to protect their online accounts from getting hacked.
Security experts have rated password managers as one of the best ways to keep your accounts for various services secure. Too often, when millions of users’ credentials are leaked online, researchers then discover that a big portion of the users were using short and simple passwords to secure their accounts.
These passwords can not only often be guessed by the attackers by looking into their targets’ past, but they can also be trivially broken with modern password cracking tools.
Short Passwords Cause Large Data Breaches
There are multiple reasons why people use such short, simple passwords. For one, they are afraid they might forget them, so they choose something simple that’s easily remembered.
Another reason is that they have to log in to dozens of websites and accounts these days, so they choose two or three simple passwords and re-use them across all of those sites. This also means that if only one of those websites is hacked, multiple other accounts may become compromised as well.
Another reason why people choose short passwords is because they don’t realize how advanced password cracking tools are these days. Many still believe that the only threat is the attacker “guessing” their password, when in reality the attackers would test millions of such short passwords in minutes.
Password Managers To The Rescue
Password managers completely eliminate the above problems by generating long and unique passwords for each of your accounts. On average, it should make users (especially those relying on short passwords for multiple sites) much safer, which is why most security experts think so highly of this type of security tool.
A recent NIST study also talked about computer users’ “security fatigue,” mainly related to the fact that sometimes, in enterprise situations, users have to work with dozens of passwords. A password manager (with the appropriate security precautions) could solve that issue as well.
“So far in 2016, there were more than 1 billion passwords publicly leaked due to poor password practices,” said Joe Siegrist, LastPass’ Founder, in a blog post.“We want to empower our users to take back control of their online security, and no longer feel powerless against the next wave of breaches. The more convenient we make password management the better we will be able to solve this problem. We want our users to bring LastPass with them everywhere – including the workplace because accessing the sites, apps, and services you use every day doesn’t end because you checked in at the office,” he added.
Password Manager’s Weaknesses
However, password managers also pose a couple of major risks. One is that you have to trust it (at least a “cloud-based” manager such as LastPass that can sync your passwords across devices) to properly encrypt your passwords end-to-end, so that only you can have access to your own password database.
LastPass’ security architecture seems to do exactly that, and until malicious intent is proven, it can likely be trusted to keep its users’ passwords safe. Much like a certificate authority, user trust is all a cloud-based password manager company really has. If that trust is somehow broken, the company could risk a user exodus, and then bankruptcy.
Security-minded people are highly sensitive to such issues. Sometimes, even an acquisition can cause an uproar (opens in new tab), because users are unsure whether the company still deserves their trust. In such cases, the companies need to properly reaffirm that they’ve committed to maintaining that user trust.
However, if you still don’t trust cloud-based password managers such as LastPass, Dashlane (opens in new tab) or 1Password (opens in new tab), then there are still open source password managers for the desktop such as KeePass and KeePassX. You can also use these open source tools on mobile, but you’ll have to handle your own password syncing by importing the password databases into compatible apps.
Protecting Your Master Password
The second major potential issue that one could have with a password manager is getting your master password hacked or stolen. Once you start using a password manager, the master password for the tool is the only password you’ll ever need. Therefore, you should make sure it’s a solid one. You don’t want it to be easily broken by cracking tools.
A long, unique master password isn’t enough, so you’ll also want to use two-factor authentication to log in to LastPass or other similar services. Ideally, you should use a Yubikey or fingerprint/smart card, but Google Authenticator or the company’s own LastPass Authenticator (opens in new tab) could work as well.
It will probably be at least a few years until most users will be able to use fingerprint authentication to log in to websites, and not just unlock devices. However, even when biometric authentication is standard on all devices, people may still have good reasons to prefer strong passwords over those methods. Password managers can be almost as easy to use as biometric authentication, while ensuring that if an account is broken because of a company's bad security practices, you can still generate a new password. This "feature" is much more limited in the case of biometric authentication, because you only have so many fingers or eyes that you can use when your biometric data is stolen.