If you’re still using passwords like “ABC123” to secure your online accounts, you really need a password manager to up your security game. Not to sound like an alarmist, but those types of passwords are every hacker’s dream. In fact, each year a new report seems to pop up confirming what we already know to be true: people make mistakes unwittingly.
Researchers in one IBM study released in 2014 found that nearly 95% of all successful cyberattacks IBM suffered were due to human error. In other words, user mistakes (like using easy-to-crack passwords and opening phishing emails) accounted for the majority of data breaches they experienced that year. A more recent Verizon study published in 2020 disclosed that over 80% of its own hacking-related breaches involved passwords. That means that 4 out of 5 breaches could have been prevented if their employees simply used secure logins.
According to NordPass, some of the most common passwords still used today include 123456, password, 111111, and qwerty. While hard to believe, it does explain how “human error” can in fact be the primary cause of cyberattacks.
Testing Password Managers
With more than 250 free and paid password managers on Google Play and the App Store, how do you choose? To help narrow down your options, I tested a dozen top-rated password managers on the market today. I focused on solutions that work best for individuals rather than businesses and compared them against these main factors:
- Storage Capacity
- Device Compatibility
- Two-Factor Authentication
- Password Sharing
Check out the five best password managers in 2021 to make our list. Really, all five services are equally viable options. So, be sure to make your pick based on your specific needs rather than which one ranks #1 here.
Also, if you’d like to double down on your password protection, consider pairing your password manager with a secure VPN. For each service ranked below, you’ll also find a VPN recommendation that compliments it.
The Best Password Managers in 2021
Best for Security
Known for its security and capable free tier, Bitwarden tops our list as the most secure password manager on the market. While a few advanced features are locked behind a paywall, the bulk of Bitwarden’s service can be enjoyed from its free plan, too. Although, for just $10 per year, you can get all Bitwarden has to offer at a fraction of what you’d pay with other premium services on this list.
Bitwarden helps not just store and save your passwords but also generate and update them as needed. It creates routine password audits and provides a password generator, so you can stay on top of your password security. Both free and premium versions also come with unlimited device connections, device types, and vault items, so you can protect as many passwords, notes, credit cards, and identities as you need with a single account.
As far as compatibility goes, it’s one of the best. Users can install and deploy the Bitwarden software on any Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, or Windows machine as well as most web browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Vivaldi, Brave, and even Tor Browser.
Because Bitwarden is open source, it is continually audited by thousands of users and staff. This checks and balances approach helps solve for any potential security vulnerabilities or updates needed for the best user experience. It also complies with all Privacy Shield, GDPR, and CCPA regulations. Moreover, it uses military-grade AES 256-bit encryption to protect user information. Premium users also get advanced features including two-factor authentication (2FA) methods such as biometric logins, TOTP authentication, and physical secret keys like YubiKey/Duo. If you want to go further, Bitwarden even supports Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) authentication, which is a method that uses one key for multiple accounts – elevating the security provided by 2FA.
With greater dependence on technology, password protection is a necessity now. In an Authority Magazine interview with Bitwarden’s CEO, Michael Brandell, he explains why every user needs a password manager today, stating how, in 2020, “cybercrime reports to the FBI rose 400% to 4,000 per day, […] phishing attacks [rose] to 20,000–30,000 per day, and […] ransomware attacks [rose] 800% during the pandemic.” All of this can be attributed to the sharp increase in digital connectivity during the pandemic.
Securing your online passwords is usually the first step in protecting your data. The second step is pairing it with a secure VPN. A VPN will safely hide your IP address from online snoopers, encrypt your personal information, and support activities like torrenting. Bitwarden is best paired with IPVanish. This VPN is best known for its privacy and security features and also offers unlimited device connections like Bitwarden. You can check out its cheapest subscription options below.
- Capable free plans available
- Industry-low pricing on Premium plans
- Open-source software
- Zero-knowledge encryption
- Unlimited devices + syncing
- Unlimited device types
- Unlimited storage
- Free cloud hosting
- Encrypted export option
- 2FA methods
- YubiKey, U2F, and Duo support locked behind a paywall
- No TOTP with the free plan
- Learning curve for password management beginners
- Basic user interface
Best for Beginners
Getting LastPass set up on my computer was as easy as 1-2-3. It takes just a few clicks to create an account and download the browser or device app of your choice. I was also impressed by the extended trial period LastPass offers in addition to its free basic-tier plan. Users have three different subscription options: 1) a free plan, 2) a single Premium plan, or 3) a Family Premium plan with up to 6 licenses.
LastPass proved to have the most user-friendly experience, which is great for entry-level users. It’s also compatible with all major web browsers including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Opera as well as operating systems such as Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows.
Once I signed in to my new account, customizing the settings to fit my workflow was quite easy. The main LastPass dashboard comes with tabs for password vaults, secure notes, addresses, credit cards, and even bank account credentials. In addition, you get access to a Security Dashboard that provides standard password auditing, so your logins are always updated and secure. You can also share passwords with other LastPass members if you’d like.
Another factor that played into its ranking was the security options available. LastPass uses AES 256-bit ciphering to encrypt passwords end-to-end. It also offers time-based one-time password (TOTP) authentication (think push notifications on your smartphone) via methods such as Microsoft Authenticator, Google Authenticator, Grid, Toopher, and Duo Security. Also, if you’re a premium user, you have the option to enable a physical security key. This could be a biometric login via a fingerprint and smart card or a YubiKey USB drive.
Its capable free tier almost snagged the “Best Free Service” badge until I discovered a few limitations. Namely, users on the free plan can only use LastPass on a single device type. This means that you can only store passwords across computers (i.e. all browsers running on desktops and laptops) or mobile (i.e. tablets, phones, and smartwatches). It also can’t share files with multiple users at once and caps your storage. To enjoy these types of password management features, you’ll need to upgrade to one of LastPass’ premium plans. For the price, though, it’s worth it.
We recommend combining LastPass with ExpressVPN if you’re looking for a total overhaul of your data privacy. ExpressVPN recently announced a new partnership with this password manager to promote internet safety. All LastPass Premium and Families subscribers can now take advantage of a 30-day free trial of ExpressVPN. This VPN complements LastPass by offering the same AES encryption as well as online anonymity against hackers and snoopers. You can check out its available plans below.
- Robust free plan
- Free 30-day Premium trial
- Competitively priced
- Straightforward interface
- Extensive 2FA options
- Up to 6 licenses per family plan
- Unlimited storage with paid plans
- Yubikey support on premium plans
- Free plan limited to one device connection at a time
- Limited storage on the free plan
- Occasional server interruptions require multiple login attempts
- Form-fill feature sometimes finicky
- Not easy to import passwords
Best User Experience
A reputable service, NordPass is an extension of its more infamous product, NordVPN. While its one-month plan is pricier than most password managers, NordPass gives users multiple options to test out its platform before committing to a long-term plan – which is significantly cheaper and competitively priced in the market.
Your options include: 1) signing up for a free basic plan that’s limited to one device at a time, 2) upgrading to the NordPass Premium plan for free for seven days, or 3) purchasing one of the plans below outright with a 30-day refund guarantee if you’re not satisfied. For the purpose of this review, I first tinkered with its basic free plan and then tested out its premium plan before requesting a refund for my subscription. I had no issues canceling when it was time.
Right off the bat, NordPass checked off the must-have boxes. Both its free and paid plans come with unlimited storage, a sleek interface, and compatibility with all major web browsers as well as Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS systems. However, I did notice that while NordPass does support the Chrome browser extension, it does not support Chrome OS (Chromebooks). If you have a Chromebook computer, it’s best to keep scrolling through the other options on this list.
NordPass makes importing passwords and files seamless. Within the app, there are tons of guides and plugins to help you consolidate your account logins. If you know other Premium members, you can also share passwords with them easily.
Another key factor I considered was password security. The whole point of a password manager is to secure your credentials. NordPass passed this criterion with flying colors. It uses standard AES 256-bit encryption, employs routine password checks, and offers multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods. Biometric logins and time-based one-time password (TOTP) authentication are typically what you think of for MFA – and NordPass does offer those. However, the best password managers also come with physical security key support, which NordPass recently added in the summer of 2021. Moreover, NordPass runs on a zero-knowledge architecture, so not even it knows what you store in your password vault.
We’d like to see NordPass add a family plan, since only Premium users can create shared vaults at this time. But all in all, NordPass appears to be worth every penny. And you guessed it – if you wish to maximize your security and privacy online, NordVPN is the next step for you. It’s a powerhouse VPN with fast connection speeds, torrenting support, and a vast server network.
- Free basic plan available
- Free 7-day Premium trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Password sharing options
- Sleek interface across all devices
- Multi-Factor Authentication
- New physical secret key support
- Earn credit if you refer a friend
- Stores passwords, notes, and credit card information
- Audited by Cure53, an independent security firm
- Expensive one-month plan
- Free plan limited to one device connection at a time
- Lacks digital inheritance
- Only premium users can create shared folders
- No family plans available
Best for Families
1Password earned a spot on our list for its robust encryption and affordable multi-licenses subscription. 1Password is best for families seeking a joint plan they can use to share logins easily while also not breaking the bank. It requires you to enter a credit card upon sign-up. However, users can try its free 14-day trial (which I did for this review) and then cancel within that window to avoid charges. I had zero issues terminating my account when needed.
1Password is extremely easy to use. It provides multiple setup guides to help you download the app on your devices and transfer passwords from other password managers like Dashlane, RoboForm, LastPass, and Chrome. If you’re on a family plan, this also makes it easier to expand your password vault. Rather than manually typing out your credentials, you can transfer logins with a few clicks.
What impressed me the most was 1Password’s layers of encryption. It utilizes end-to-end AES 256-bit encryption and true 2FA across all devices as well as biometric login support on mobile devices. If you even suspect an account may be breached, 1Password comes with a Watchtower feature that alerts users to any weak logins, compromised websites, and expiring passwords. Moreover, it does not store your master vault key. Instead, it provides an “Emergency Kit” for your records. At sign-up, it requires you to download a copy in case you ever need to recover your account.
In addition, it also offers two unique security features including password-authenticated key exchange (PAKE) and Travel Mode. PAKE is an encryption protocol where two or more people have a shared password known as a cryptographic key (1Password calls it a Secret Key). Each person holds a specific part of the 36-character password so that only together can they unlock a 1Password vault. Travel Mode is a feature that temporarily deletes entire password vaults from your device when toggled on. This way your devices – and therefore your personal information – can’t be compromised when you travel. It’s another great feature for families to have when traveling. Your kids may lose their phones on a trip, but with Travel Mode on, you won’t have to worry about them (read: you) losing personal data, too.
To top it off, 1Password plans come with unlimited storage, unlimited device connections, and the ability to store secure notes in your account. If you want full protection, we suggest pairing a 1Password plan with a Surfshark VPN subscription. It also offers unlimited device connections, industry-low pricing, and unblocking ability so the entire family can enjoy their favorite shows outside the US with ease.
- Free 14-day trial
- PAKE encryption protocol
- Compatible with Apple, Windows, and Chromebooks devices
- Compatible with Linux, Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows operating systems
- Browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Brave
- Family plan available for password sharing
- Biometric login support including facial recognition and fingerprint reading
- 24/7 customer support
- PAKE cryptographic key option
- Travel Mode feature prevents prying eyes from accessing your logins
- Intuitive form capture feature
- No long-term free version
- No individual recovery option, aside from manually printed Emergency Kit or a family account member
- Automatic lock after 10 mins (though this can be adjusted in settings)
- Basic, outdated desktop application
- Weak mobile app experience
5. Norton Password Manager
Best Free Service
Easy-to-use and completely free, Norton Password Manager is excellent for users on a budget or new to password managers. It provides all the basic password management functions you’d hope for while lacking just a few nice-to-haves. Users can download the software for free online or get it bundled with any Norton 360 internet security plan below.
Norton Password Manager uses military-grade security measures including AES 256-bit encryption, basic two-factor authentication (in the form of push notifications), a zero-knowledge policy, and an auto change feature. Auto change lets a user update their password stored on a website with just one click, automatically completing all the backend steps normally required to change a password. Moreover, the only way to access passwords in your account is with your vault master password, which is never stored or sent anywhere. Norton warns users multiple times at sign-up that the vault password is not recoverable. This zero-knowledge policy can either be a pro or con depending on how you view it.
This service is largely web-based, which makes it very easy to start using. You can sync passwords across all of your Android, iOS, and Windows devices. And you can download its app on popular browser extensions for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. If you currently already have a password manager including LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, you’re able to import those stored passwords into a Norton Password Manager account pretty easily. Norton also provides unlimited password storage, so you don’t have to worry about running out of space.
A few advanced options Norton Password Manager is lacking include password sharing, digital inheritance (i.e. family plans for shared access), 2FA for desktops, and a built-in time-based one-time password (TOTP) authentication. However, for a free password manager, Norton covers all its bases – and does it well.
If you’d like to protect your privacy online as well as your passwords, we recommend pairing Norton Password Manager with a Norton Secure VPN subscription. It provides the same industry-standard encryption and safely hides your IP address from online snoopers. It also shares a similar user experience as the password manager and unblocks geo-restricted streaming content otherwise unavailable.
- 100% free
- Unlimited password storage
- Automatic password change
- Syncs all passwords across Windows, iOS, and Android devices
- AES 256-bit encryption
- Biometric two-factor authentication available on mobile devices
- Password vault auditing tool
- Password generator
- No account recovery options
- No password sharing
- No digital inheritance
- No advanced two-factor authentication
- No built-in TOTP authenticator
No More Jotting It Down
The days of writing passwords down on sticky notes or settling for “123456” at sign-ups are over. With cyberattacks on the rise, your online accounts – be it financial, retail, or leisure – are all ripe for the taking. Hackers won’t hesitate to test your password vulnerabilities, so it’s important to safeguard your personal information at all times.
For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month, you could protect yourself from identity theft, bank account breaches, and so much more. So, why wait? Test out multiple password managers to see which one fits into your workflow best. And then, establish good habits so hackers never have the chance to dupe you.
Password protection is one of those obligatory tasks people are late to implement, but I say there’s no time like the present. Better late than never on this one.