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1Password: My favorite password manager is an essential security tool

A password manager is the most important security tool you can use, on Windows, Mac, mobile devices, or even a command line. Here's why I recommend 1Password to friends, family, and co-workers.

Do you use a password manager? As far as I'm concerned, it's the single most important security precaution you can take, regardless of which hardware platforms you favor. (If you want to read my full case for why everyone should adopt this security measure, see this explainer: "Forgot password? Five reasons why you need a password manager.")

The biggest advantage of a good password manager is that it allows you to create and save a unique, impossible-to-guess password for every online service you use. That collection of passwords is stored in an encrypted database that only you can unlock, and with your permission that database can be synced, securely, to every Windows PC, Mac, and mobile device you own.

I've tried a lot of password managers over the years, and there are some worthy contenders in this category. (For a full list of options, see "The best password managers for business: 1Password, Keeper, LastPass, and more.") My favorite, and the one I enthusiastically recommend to friends, family, and co-workers, is 1Password. I ignored this program for years because it catered mainly to Mac owners. That might have been true years ago, but today, this is hands down the best cross-platform password manager solution.

1Password

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My favorite password manager has it all. It works on every desktop and mobile hardware platform. It has every feature you expect from this class of software, including a robust password generator that can create and save truly random, unguessable credentials, as well as support for two-factor authentication. And it offers sync options to satisfy even the most skeptical among us.

Pricing: 1Password is a subscription product that is sold in personal and business editions. (You can get a personal standalone license for $65, although it lacks support for multi-factor authentication and family accounts.) The personal options cost $36/year for a single user, on as many devices as you want, or $60/year for a family plan that supports up to five people. Business plans include a $4/month Teams option and an $8/month Business option that includes additional security features and a free Family plan for every licensed user. Enterprise customers can call for a custom quote.

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Toronto-based 1Password was founded 15 years ago, in 2005, and has built up a steady, profitable business in that time. But that didn't stop the company from taking $200 million of series A capital in 2019 to expand into new markets.

So far, that plan has been working out extremely well.

The number-one reason why I love this app is its dead-simple usability. It's one of the first programs I install when I set up a new Windows 10 PC or a Mac. It's also a must-install app on iOS and Android devices. (There's even a command-line version, if you want to incorporate authentication into scripts.) Regardless of platform, 1Password is uncannily accurate at filling in saved passwords, especially on sites with multi-step authentication flows and two-factor authentication. That was a particularly annoying pain point with other password managers I've used through the years.

The other killer feature is the ability to create shared password databases (1Password calls them "vaults"). In my family, we have separate password vaults for personal accounts, but the saved credentials for shared subscriptions and shopping accounts go into a shared vault. When my wife wants to check up on the status of an order I placed online, she doesn't need to ask me to log in and check for her. She can do it herself from her Windows 10 PC or her iPhone, using the saved password from our shared vault.

One of the most controversial aspects of any password manager program is the ability to sync from the cloud, a feature that neatly balances convenience and security.  If you choose the option to store your data on 1Password's servers, you get some extremely robust security. All data is encrypted at rest and in transit, and connecting a new device requires that you enter your private 128-bit secret key plus a master password that only you know. If you're still nervous, you can add two-factor authentication. (I've configured our family account to accept the Microsoft Authenticator app or one of two hardware keys as a second factor for authentication.)

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You can configure 1Password to alert you when a site supports 2-factor authentication.

But if the word cloud makes you start to itch uncontrollably, that's not a problem. For those who are nervous about storing an encrypted password cache on 1Password's servers, you have options: You can choose to store the database using Dropbox or iCloud instead, protected by the security features of those platforms. If you prefer the no-cloud option, you're covered. You can sync passwords between devices on your local network only. In that configuration, 1Password never has access to your encrypted password database, and it can't be hacked from some obscure Eastern European location.

My favorite recent addition to the 1Password feature set is the ability to generate two-factor authentication (2FA) codes. Previously, I had to rely on a separate authenticator app to handle that chore. (For details, see "Protect yourself: How to choose the right two-factor authenticator app.")

I can't emphasize enough how easy 1Password is to use, especially on mobile devices. If you're flummoxed by passwords, this could be your savior.

Alternatives

If you're looking for an alternative to 1Password, I recommend these options:

Keeper In my tests, this service was incredibly close to 1Password in terms of usability, and their enterprise story is compelling. It has a full suite of superb cross-platform apps and technical support is first-rate. Put this one on your shortlist if you're looking for a business-focused password manager.

LastPass  I used this app for years and left, reluctantly, after a security breach shattered my confidence in the company. They've since been purchased by the owners of LogMeIn, and the company seems none the worse for wear.