How to end your online password nightmare

They say you should make every password a long jumble of numbers and uppercase and lowercase letters, and you shouldn’t use the same password for multiple sites, and you should change passwords every few months as well as every time you might have been affected by one of those frequent, massive data breaches, and if you don’t do follow these rules for the dozens of sites where you have an account, then you are inviting hackers to steal your money and ruin your life.

It is a nightmare that no normal person could manage on their own.

Like most people, I ignored some best practices — thus opening myself up to risk and anxiety — and still found myself repeatedly forgetting passwords and struggling to access accounts.

A few months ago, I finally made the plunge and signed up for one of those password managers that supposedly offer a better way. Making the switch was intimidating because there are a lot of options, many of them cost money, and they all take time to set up and get used to.

Trust me: It is worth it. Everyone reading this should sign up. It will change your life.

Escaping the nightmare

All the password managers do the same basic thing, with different user interfaces, bell and whistles, and price points (head to PCMag or WSJ for a good overview).

They will suck up the passwords stored in your browser and elsewhere and keep them in a super-encrypted vault that is unlocked by one master password. Whenever you change a password or enter a new one, they will remember those, too.

Since you’ll have to remember only one master password, it will be easy for you to create unique and complex passwords for every site. Most of the programs have browser extensions and mobile apps that are designed to make adding, changing, and accessing passwords quick and easy.

While putting all your eggs in one basket may sound dangerous, most digital security experts agree that password managers are secure and far safer than not using one.

It’s true that getting started is a little complicated — indeed, I look forward to the day when we can get rid of passwords altogether in favour of touch, face, or some other identification — but it’s not unmanageable for an experienced computer user. And some passwords managers are easier than others.

At first I tried LastPass, based on its good reviews and relatively cheap $US12 annual fee for premium features. As my first password manager, it truly changed my life — and yet, it was complicated enough that I decided to look for another option.

Next I tried the critically acclaimed 1Password, paying a hefty $US70 one-time fee for a Mac/PC combo licence and $US10 for premium features on iOS. I’m happy to report that it is relatively intuitive and seamless on Mac and iOS, even if it doesn’t work as well on PC.

Some highlights of using 1Password:

I’ve been able to identify and update all my weak passwords and replace them with stuff like zL7ByFgYJDQ9aGh, which does wonders for my anxiety.

When I go to a site I haven’t logged into for months, I don’t have to guess at the password: I just enter my master password and let 1Password do the rest.

Even when I go to sites I use often, the browser extension makes logging in easier.

When using my iPhone, I can unlock 1Password using my fingerprint and copy passwords to use in other apps.

This system isn’t perfect. 1Password occasionally speeds up my digital activities, but it occasionally slows them down, like when I have to exit one app to open 1Password before going back to the first app to enter a password. Sometimes I accidentally store the wrong password. And I feel a new kind of anxiety from not knowing my Gmail or Apple passwords.

Still, this system is the best thing we’ve got, and it’s way better than the old password nightmare.

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