A password manager’s core function is (unsurprisingly) to store and manage account passwords in a secure and flexible manner. Their workplace utility is obvious; companies have multiple services and accounts who’s access permissions must be managed across different projects and teams that are often in flux. Reliable simultaneous access to password information is obviously vital to achieving efficient workflows in such environments. Morasses of remote-access accounts is no longer the sole province of large enterprise teams, however – the Internet revolution has made remote services available to the public at unprecedented scale.
Try to get through a single day without letting your browser autofill passwords for you (which you shouldn’t be doing anyway) and you’ll soon realize just how many remote-access accounts we maintain just as individuals. Email, shopping, game services, music and movie streaming, social media – you’re probably reliant on more accounts than you realize. Likewise, small businesses – everything from freelance professionals to small restaurants – now use remote-access services for things once reserved for in-person errand-running. Business banking services, deposits and withdrawals, product ordering, inventory tracking – it can all be done online through affordable cloud services. Even marketing and self-promotion is highly dependent on social media networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. All of these services require authentication credentials – not necessarily just a password, either! Activation codes, serial numbers, PIN numbers, customer IDs, invoice numbers, Bill of Lading numbers, credit card numbers (for the business and customers both); the amount of crucial, small bits of data is overwhelming.
All this information has one thing in common – they’re the keys to our lives. Like the keys to our car and house, we use them every day and need them immediately to hand, but need to protect them from theft or misuse at all costs. The difficulties imposed by these diametrically opposed imperatives are familiar to anyone who’s ever had to hunt down a co-worker for their keys. Much of a working day can be wasted on inconveniences imposed in the name of security; and many security lapses are committed in the name of efficiency. Achieving fast and secure access to vital data is the problem password mangers exist to solve. Put simply, password managers are specialized secure databases for rapidly serving up crucial, sensitive data that must not be compromised. “Passwords” are just one category of such.
A familiar example: purchasing something online. When time comes to pay, you’ve got to dig out your credit card, laboriously type in the 16 digit number and the expiration date, then try to decipher the worn-away security code on the flip side. A proper password manager avoids the hassle by serving the number up for copy-pasting within a second of typing into the quick-search bar, just like it’d do with passwords. They should also let you associate that data: searching the password to the shopping site would bring up the credit card number as associated meta-data, to be used in the same place. This functionality defines password managers as a tool; they’re not only secure, but faster than passing post-it-notes around the office with the latest account password on it.
Password managers are productivity tools as much as security tools, eliminating the “security tax” of wasted time. Liberate the key ring, and every workday goes a little faster.