With a password manager app, all you need is one master password to access and secure all your online accounts.

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Are all of your passwords scrawled in a notebook with crossed-out entries and passwords you no longer use? Or maybe you keep your passwords in a file on your computer, your phone or another device. If that’s the case, you’re putting your online security at risk.

Anyone visiting or working in your home can flip through your password notebook and take photos when you’re not looking. Or, more likely, an online hacker can gain access to your passwords and many of your accounts, especially if you use the same password on most.

“If your one password gets stolen because of a breach, it becomes a skeleton key for your whole cyber life,” warns the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA). “This compromised password can then be used to gain access to all your accounts and your sensitive information.”

Your best bet for keeping account passwords secure is to download and use a password manager app. A password manager is a stand-alone program that safely stores, generates and manages passwords for online apps and accounts. Many password manager applications are free, and others charge only a nominal monthly subscription fee.

Yet only 18 percent of consumers and business owners surveyed say they’ve downloaded a password manager, according to “Oh, Behave: The Annual Cybersecurity Attitudes and Behaviors Report 2022” a report from CybSafe, a cybersecurity and data analytics software company with a focus on human behavioral security to minimize cyber risk.

If you’ve hesitated to use a password manager because you don’t understand what the app does or action that it requires, there’s no better time to bone up on secure password management than October, which is National Cybersecurity Awareness month.

How does a password manager work?

It only takes a few minutes to download a secure password manager to your computer or another device. Once it’s installed, you provide one master password to access the password manager. Then you can add all of your passwords at once or when the password manager prompts you to add a password that you’ve just used to log into an online account.

Once you’ve stored your passwords, the password manager automatically uses them to log into your accounts. There’s no need to keep a hard or electronic copy of your online passwords, since they’re now stored in the password manager “vault.”

From that point on, the only password you need to remember or write down (and put in a secure location) is the master password to your password manager.

Find out: How Can I Protect Myself From Identity Theft?

Three ways a password manager protects your online security

1. Encryption

The best password managers encrypt all passwords with an indecipherable code, making them “virtually impossible to decode” by a hacker, says the NCA. The only password that can access the password manager and all of your passwords is the master password, which only you know.

Find out: The Top 5 Identity Theft Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

2. Multi-factor authentication

Adding multi-factor authentication provides another layer of security to your password manager.

“Because your password vault on a password manager is so valuable, the best password managers require multi-factor authentication for you to log in,” says the NCA. So, if anyone trying to log into your accounts must provide multiple forms of identity verification, which may include:

  • Fingerprint scan
  • Facial ID
  • Inputting a code sent to your smartphone

Find out: 7 Ways to Protect Your Identity While Shopping on Your Phone

3. Your master password isn’t stored

The password manager doesn’t store the keys needed to decrypt the master password that “unlocks” the password vault, according to the NCA. So, your master password is never kept on the system’s servers. You’re the only one with the password, so make sure you set up multi-factor authentication to protect the master password.

Find out: 5 Identity Theft Risks You Should Never Take on Public Wi-Fi

How to choose a password manager

Do an online search to bring up many different free or low-cost password managers, including:

  • Keeper
  • Bitwarden
  • 1Password
  • NordPass
  • LastPass
  • Dashlane

Before choosing a password manager, the NCA recommends comparing apps to find the best password manager for you. For more information, check out the following guides:

  • Consumer Reports
  • PC Mag
  • CNET
  • Passwordmanager.com

Have you had your Identity Stolen? Get professional help to clean up errors in your credit report.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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