Web browsers were once just used for browsing the web. But now they can perform all kinds of tricks, including password management. With new features like password suggestions and data protection warnings being added all the time, are these built-in password managers ready to adopt third-party dedicated tools? Here’s how they stack up right now.
What your browser can do
With each passing month, it seems that browsers are getting better at managing passwords – which is no real surprise, considering the important sign up for services for daily living online. Every major browser will now remember your login details on all the pages you use, and sync them across multiple devices.
Chrome, Safari, and Firefox can now all provide you with strong, random passwords when you create a new account online (most likely, eventually, the new Microsoft Edge as well). You do not need to do anything to enable this feature – you will simply see a suggestion pop-up in a password field when the browser detects you signing up for something new.
Both Chrome and Safari will mark passwords that you use several times, or that are difficult to guess. Go to the password check in your Google Account, or open the Passwords tab in Safari Preferences on macOS, if the Passwords and accounts menu in iOS settings, to check for possible issues. Google or Apple will tell you what the problem is and give you links to change your passwords where needed.
Firefox, Chrome and Safari (with the macOS Big Sur en iOS 14 updates) will tell you all if your passwords have been compromised in data breaches directly from the built-in password manager screens. Firefox even has a separate tool for this, that you can use with or without Firefox – just enter your email address Firefox Monitor and you will get alerts if your user credentials are leaked on the web.
Google and Apple have built mobile operating systems alongside web browsers, so these features extend to Android and iOS as well. On some Android apps that Google recognizes, it will use references you have stored in Chrome to sign in automatically, with your Google Account as your authorization (it makes setting up apps on a new device a lot easier). Head to the Google Password Manager online, or choose Google, Manage your Google Account, Security, en Password Manager from Android settings to see what Google has saved.
Meanwhile, iOS has been saving your app passwords for years, and associating them with your Apple ID. When you sign in to an app on iOS, you see the option to use existing references appear, if Apple has them on Safari or iOS file. As we have already mentioned, if you the Passwords and accounts menu on the iOS settings screen, you can see what has been saved and make changes as needed.
It’s a comprehensive set of features, and is becoming more and more comprehensive – especially if you also take into account the expansion of your phone. You can easily get through and keep your various accounts secure with the password manager in a browser, but dedicated password managers go quite a bit further.
What your password manager can do
There is no shortage of password managers. The likes of 1Password, Bitwarden, Dashlane, Keeper en LastPass have kept users safe for years while new products appear on the market all de time. We will not go into a detailed comparison of features or prices between them all here, but broadly speaking there are several advantages that dedicated password managers still have over what you can find in your web browser.
First and foremost, these password managers work everywhere: across all your mobile devices, all your web browsers and all your computers. If you jump between Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, your passwords may come with you, and you are not sure how to try to pull your credentials from a device other than the one you are currently using.
Second, password managers are better at handling passwords for an entire family (many even have separate family plans), and at sharing passwords between people. If your kids have access to a site when your employee needs the team signup for an app, this is much easier to manage if you use a dedicated tool for the task. You can also frequently store and share other data, such as alarm codes or wifi passwords.
This is another benefit for password managers: Most of them manage very important information for you, such as addresses, credit card details, or the details of your passports. While web browsers and mobile OSes can do this with an auto-fill, the options available in password managers are most extensive in terms of what can be stored and how it can be used.
This also applies to other features – both your browser and your password manager may suggest new, strong passwords, but it is the dedicated software apps that offer more control over these suggestions (password length and the types of characters that be used, for example). Even if there is a feature agreement between a web browser and a password manager, the password manager typically offers more control and additional options.
It’s worth remembering that password managers are designed to do one job and do it right – the developers behind Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge are working on a number of features at once. That is not to say that Google as Apple does not take password management and security seriously, but when it comes to software, it is usually a good idea to make use of a dedicated tool when one is available.
Password managers may seem like an extra layer of password management that you do not need – and may even cost you a few dollars a month – but in our experience they are still very worth installing, even if built-in browser options continue to improve. If you want the closest and most complete control over your passwords, then a password manager is still the way to go (and they can usually import login details from your browser’s existing database).