You know how important passwords are for protecting your data. But have you ever stopped to think how essential it is to protect your passwords, too?

That’s where a solution like password managers come in: “a tool that stores one strong master password that gives you easy access to all of your accounts while helping to keep cybercriminals at bay,” explains Norton.

Password managers are an effortless way to stay safe online. Not only do they keep all your different passwords organized in one place, some also automatically generate strong, unique passwords that cyberthieves can’t crack.

No more changing passwords slightly from account to account or using the dreaded 123456 as your login. These gatekeepers are complex, long, and virtually un-guessable.

This primer helps you optimize your password manager to better secure your data.

A Relatively New Security Innovation

This is not your grandmother’s code word. Password managers are usually run from an app or piece of computer software that safely houses your usernames and passwords for different sites.

Depending on how they’re programmed, randomized passwords may be auto-generated using a lengthy string of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitalization. The main draw is the password manager’s ability to designate unique, strong passwords for each of your accounts. This hub is usually encrypted and guarded with a single password, passphrase, or Touch ID.

Password managers may be downloaded as an application, installed as a browser plug-in, or, in some cases, come standard with your device’s operating system. The idea is to automatically capture (and, in some cases, create) a different, complex password and username for every site you log in. To enter the password vault you’ll create a randomized password using the best practices mentioned above – preferably one that’s updated every 90 days.

The Pros of a Password Manager

Are you one of the 66% of people who use the same password for multiple accounts? You’re not alone. Because the dozens of different passwords we use can be hard to keep track of, many are happy to let password managers do the work for them.

Password manager perks include:

1. No more password memorization. Commit just one main password to memory and let your password manager handle the rest.

2. Unique, complex passwords for each of your accounts. Usually, these are comprised of at least 12 random characters, including lower and upper case letters, numbers, and symbols.

3. Password encryption for added security. Sensitive data, including passwords, personal ID numbers, and credit card information, is encrypted or “scrambled” making it virtually useless to hackers, even if they do somehow crack your code.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

So if password managers are so great, why do fewer than 15% of Americans use them?

  • Vulnerability: While password managers are one of the best, most secure solutions available, they’re not completely impenetrable or hack-proof. Most skeptics worry all their passwords could be stolen at once. The good news is that many password managers are encrypted, so even if a breach does occur, the data should be virtually useless to the cybercrook.
  • User error: Forget or misplace your main password and you could be locked out of the rest of the information in your vault.
  • Setup difficulties: There’s also a learning curve associated with password managers. If it’s your first time setting one up, you may need to pull from a database of passwords you previously created, or manually enter them into the vault.

Even with their shortcomings, it’s easy to see why password managers are rapidly emerging as an essential component of our digital lives. Their popularity is expected to increase as the number of cyberthreats and accounts we have continue to escalate. No wonder they’ve been endorsed by everyone from The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the vast majority of cyber-security specialists. Like the sound of one password to unlock them all? This is the way to do it – safely.