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How Hacking Works

How Password Managers Work And Why You Should Use One

Using a password manager will make you more secure, and will also simplify your life.

This short video and explainer is summarized from The Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked , our comprehensive guide to digital security.


We used to think that, in order to be secure, passwords needed to be incomprehensible gobbledygook strings made of random characters, uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. That’s not the case anymore. In fact, you don't even need to remember passwords anymore. You should use a password manager instead.

A password manager is an app—essentially a digital safe—that keeps all your passwords secure and helps you create different, strong passwords for each one of your accounts. There are several different ones. Our favorites are 1Password, LastPass and KeePass.

Password managers don’t only keep you safe: They also simplify your life. Instead of typing passwords, many password managers will autocomplete forms, and on phones, you can copy-and-paste them from the password manager app to the service you’re trying to login to.

To be clear, you should use a different password for each account you have.

We all have dozens of online accounts, each (hopefully) with a unique password. Reusing passwords is bad because if, for example, a hacker gets control of your Netflix or Spotify password, they can then use it to get into your ridesharing or bank account to drain your credit card. Even though our brains aren't actually that bad at remembering passwords, it's almost impossible to remember dozens of unique, strong passwords. That’s why you should use a password manager.

Of course, there is still one password you will have to remember, the one to unlock the password manager. Since this password opens the vault to all your other passwords, it must be a good one. Forget about long gobbledygook strings of capital letters, symbols, and numbers. The easiest way to make a secure master password is to make a passphrase: several random but pronounceable—and thus easier to memorize—words. For example: floodlit siesta kirk barrel amputee dice (don’t use this one though, we just burned it.)

When you create your master passphrase, write it down on a piece of paper and type it until you remember it like you probably remember the phone numbers of the people closest to you. You can keep the piece of paper in your wallet or on your bedside tale until you memorize the password, then get rid of it Something you use everyday is more likely to stick in your mind. To the extent possible, you should also use two-factor authentication on all of your accounts.