Well, after last week’s email about changes to LastPass, we’ve had lots of people contact us wanting to know more about how password managers work. So I thought this time I’d answer a few of the common questions people have been asking me – largely about how you’d actually go about getting and using one.
Question: How do you get one?
Once you’re at the website, you can sign up for it there and also download the little bit of software to your computer (or tablet or phone) that makes it work.
Question: Do you have to pay?
Well, like so often with questions about technology, the answer is “it depends”.
So, for a fully blown version of LastPass, you pay a yearly subscription. It costs £30 a year at the moment (although it’s reduced to £22 for this year if you upgrade to the paid version before 16th March).
But LastPass also have a free version without all the bells and whistles. As of the 16th March, it’ll only work on one type of device (i.e. a computer or a phone/tablet) – but if you only want to use it on, say, your PC, you don’t have to pay for it.
Dashlane also offer a free version, for use on one device, that lets you store up to 50 passwords.
Question: So what do you mean about using it on different devices?
Well, we’ve got two PCs that I use at home (a desktop and a laptop) – so I’ve got LastPass set up on both of them.
But I also have it set up on my phone so I can access all my accounts from that (of course, I still need to remember the one password that I set up to LastPass, but that’s easier than remembering all of them).
It’s set up with one LastPass account – so I don’t have to tell each device all the passwords separately, and if I change a password on one, it changes on all of them.
You might not be bothered about having it set up on your phone or a tablet as well as your PC – it depends what you use them for. But that way, if you do online shopping, you can use whichever gadget you’ve got to hand.
Up to you.
Personally, if I had to choose one device to have LastPass on, I’d make it my phone. That’s what I use for most of my online shopping these days, and I’ve always got my phone with me. So if I’m on a different device and need one of my passwords, I can just open up the LastPass app, check what the password is, and type it in.
Question: How do you actually use it once it’s set up?
Once you’ve got it set up, you can start to tell it all the passwords you want it to remember. That could mean typing them in or you save them one at a time as you sign in to each website.
Once it knows them, when you visit a website that you need to log in to and it knows your password, a little message will appear. In LastPass it’s next to the box you type the password in. Click on that box and it’ll list any logins you have for that account – usually there’ll only be one here but there might be two if for example you and your other half both have a log in.
Click on the one you want and it’ll log you in – done. You can also open up your “Vault” whenever you like to check what your passwords are, change them, or add a new one.
Except – if it just did it exactly like that, you wouldn’t be secure – anyone who had your PC, tablet or whatever could access all your accounts.
So the first time that “session” that you use it, you’ll have to type in the password you set up for LastPass (or whichever one you’re using). It means you’re still typing in a password, but you only have to remember one. And then if you log in to several things in that go on the web browser, without shutting it down or turning the device off (or it turning itself off) then you don’t have to type the password again. (It’s possible to turn this security feature off on a PC, so it never actually asks for you for your password – I wouldn’t recommend it though!)
Question: Do I really need one?
This is another “it depends”, I’m afraid. I’m the last person to say everyone has to do things the same way or to push the latest technology on everyone. I’ve found it useful and I know a lot of other people do, but it probably won’t be right for everyone. Have a think about how many passwords you have and how secure they are (to be secure they need to be fairly long, have a mixture of words and numbers, and not be simple words or names, like “cat123”).
If you don’t want to invest in a proper password manager, your web browser (e.g. Chrome, Edge or Firefox) will store passwords for you, too. Passwords stored this way aren’t as secure, though. You don’t have to type in a password to access them (and for other boring and technical reasons, too).
So – as ever – it’s up to you! But I wouldn’t recommend storing passwords for things like bank accounts or shops that keep your card details in a browser – just to be on the safe side.