Are browser based password managers a good option?

When we build a website we form new partner relationships online. To manage the access to these new relationships we need a password manager. Some argue that free browser based password managers are enough. Others claim we need to use a dedicated password manager. 

Here we will look at why we need a password manager. We will then look at free browser based alternatives and compare with industry leading password management services. We will end with a summary and a conclusion.

Password managers help manage user details as everything moves online

I doubt you can remember how many access details to online services you actually have. 

When I asked people around me we quickly realized that they were not even close. 

And then there is of course the matter of remembering the actual usernames and passwords to the different services. 

And if you use the same password for everything just keep on reading to learn why you need a password manager.

Never again forget user details 

It is easy to understand why we forget usernames and passwords.

One reason we forget access details is of course that we rarely use some services. And when it is finally time to log on we are forced to do a “password reset”. 

We then keep the weak password we are given or quickly try to come up with something random that we can remember. And “random” is not easy.

Then there are the services we use all the time. Here we are constantly logged on across multiple devices. But what was that password just in case we had to log in again.

With a password manager we no longer have to remember lots of unique and abstract passwords. 

Start new online relationships with strong and solid passwords

With the decision to build a website we find ourselves needing to juggle new user and login details to web hosting companies, domain name registrars, image banks, web statistics accounts, and the list goes on.

This is on top of all the user details to Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, etc. we had from before.

And then there are of course the “really” important ones to for example banks and credit card companies.

With a password manager you do not have to create a single password by yourself. SImply use the generate a password feature and receive a suggestion that would be close to impossible to remember.

Password managers help create, store and remember strong passwords with ease

Many great options when generating a strong password with 1Password.

Here are two random passwords that I generated with 1Password asking for 30 characters with digits and symbols (example 1) and a 5 word password (exemple 2).

Example 1: r)&wAkbZ{[t+oaIt20}4)y4f^Zq^pT

Exemple 2: parent wrecker alabama hued cleanly

And the good part is that you do not need to remember any passwords. So by all means choose 50 characters! The password manager will autofill the login details for you at the simple click of a button the next time you need to log in.

Never again reuse a password

It is really important to try to work safer online

And one simple measure to help be safer is to never reuse a password.

Yes, that is correct, all passwords need to be strong and unique.

And a strong password is by default hard to remember.

The danger with reusing passwords is often misunderstood. The real danger lies in hackers breaching a website where you are a member.

Now they have your username and password and they are free to start trying to login to all the common online services that we use today. 

And imaging the damage they can do if they have access to your mailbox as well. With the blink of an eye they can start changing the passwords to any accounts listing the compromised email address as the contact email.

Password manager can do random (you cannot)

Most people believe that they can write down 10 unique passwords that they know they will have to memorize and use.

If you ask them to write them down, you will see that they cannot. You will see patterns that seem to be obscure. 

When humans try to create random passwords we use street names, birthdays, middle names, maiden names and pets. And to spice it up we add a number to make it difficult to guess. Birth year or house number anyone? Believe me, random is difficult.

A password manager will create random passwords and you will not have to remember them.

No need to stay logged on all the time

Quick question for you. Do you always remember to log out of your Google account? 

Like most people you probably stay connected to save on having to sign in again. 

But what if someone swipes your laptop or mobile while you are logged in?

Now they all of a sudden have both your passwords and your email.

And yes, two-factor authentication can help – but not if you are already logged in.

With a password manager you nop longer need to stay connected. It is really easy to log in the next time you go online.

Is a browser based password manager enough?

Browser based password managers have come a long way. People used to say that being free was their strongest feature. 

That is no longer true.

I would say that a browser based password manager is a much better alternative than doing nothing. Especially if you connect your account to two-factor authentication.

And face it, today most people are doing nothing. 

Many advantages with browser based password managers

Browser based password managers are offered free by Google Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari.

Today browser based password managers generate and store strong and unique passwords. And they can synchronize your details across your devices.

And as your browser based password manager synchronizes with for example your Google account in Chrome or your Apple-ID in Safari it is easy to use two-factor authentication with for example your mobile phone.

Also, another huge advantage with browser based solutions is that they are right there in your browser. They are easy to use and prompt you to act with a minimum need for effort. And this is important as user friendliness leads to user acceptance and better online security.

To be fair the subscription based alternatives like 1Password also offer browser extensions. But you do need to install them and they require a subscription.

1Password also offer easy to use browser extensions

Four examples of easy to use browser extensions with a 1Password subscription.

Limitations with browser based password managers

There are of course some limitations with browser based solutions.

When you use a browser based manager you need to use that specific browser to have access to the password manager.  

It will support you across other devices such as mobile phones and tablets but only if you stay with the same browser.

The browser based password generator also has some limitations with regards to length of password and what sets of characters to use. 

It is also difficult to share password details with someone in a secure manner. Simply mailing your Netflix username and password to your family member as plain text in an email kind of defeats the purpose.

But you could argue that this is to be expected as the browser based password managers only are a feature of the browser. 

And maybe that is the biggest limitation. Password management is a real and important matter. Is it not worth a few dollars to buy a dedicated service where password management, privacy and security is the one and only service.

Password management as a paid service

1Password is my favourite password management solution. 

One of their taglines “Security is not just a feature. It’s our foundation.” addresses maybe the biggest limitation with the browser based password managers.

With 1Password it is easy to generate, store and use strong passwords. It is easy to fill in forms and log into websites securely with only one click.

1Password works across all browsers and devices and offers easy to use clients, apps and browser extensions. 

The password generator gives full control of length of passwords and characters to use when generating strong and secure passwords.

1Password offers a secure share feature making it easy to share and manage details across users.

Other features include:

Watchtower Warns you about security breaches and password issues affecting your 1Password items.
Phishing protection1Password will only auto-complete forms with your details on the actual website you saved them for.
Browser verification Verifies that your browser is safe before entering any 1Password items.
Keylogger protection1Passeword always uses secure input fields. Also when you enter your Master Password.

What about limitations using 1Password

There are no real limitations using 1Password as the features are really impressive and even extend beyond the web if you like. 

But there are two disadvantages I want to address.

  1. You still need to remember a Master Password
  2. It is not expensive at ca $3 per month. But still, it is not free.

Summary and conclusion:

I will make three observations:

  1. Browser based password managers linked to two-factor authentication offer a much better level of protection than using nothing.
  1. Browser based password managers may be a perfect solution for you if you are a “one-browser type operation” and use 2 factor authentication. In other words if your life revolves around Macs, iPhones, iPads and Safari or maybe a Chromebook with an Android mobile – then browser based may be for you.
  1. But if you have a couple of dollars to spend I do recommend a specialist company where security and privacy is the sole focus. 

For me 1Password was an obvious choice as it is a cross browser, dedicated solution where “Security is not just a feature. It’s our foundation.”.

But again, go with browser based if you feel that the money is not there at the moment. 

My pick for browser based password manager is Google Chrome with Two-factor authentication and then make sure to log out when not using your device. To get started sign in to your Google account and then go to https://passwords.google.com/ 

Meet the author: Serial entrepreneur and travel industry expert with more than 20 years working experience from web development, Wordpress and the travel industry. Mattias is a big fan of Open Source and will show you how to build and manage a website using Wordpress and a bit of optional PHP for the true enthusiast. Mattias identifies with self-starters and entrepreneurs and also shares ideas on how to monetize a website.