What to look for when evaluating password manager software

Here are the significant issues that can distinguish one password manager product from another. You'll probably make a similar list of requirements as you do your own research for password managers.

n Where is your password vault and how is it synchronized across platforms?Every product makes use of a "password vault" where it stores encrypted of course a record of all your passwords. This vault is located in different places depending on the particular product.

Some of the tools offer built-in synchronization with their own cloud service: once you create a user login to this service, any passwords that you have stored in your vault are synchronized automatically across all the PCs and mobile devices for a particular user. Others need additional software.

Best tools for protecting passwords

1Password works with an external service such as Dropbox or Apple's iCloud to synchronize your password vault.  RoboForm has its Everywhere software for handling synchronization.

n What platforms are supported?  

How the vault is deployed means that each product offers different client support for using it. LastPass has the widest desktop and mobile platform support of any of the products we tested and included support for BlackBerry and Linux along with Windows 8 and Macs.

While all products support the original Windows 8, not all of these products yet support Windows 8.1 under Internet Explorer v11 or with certain 64-bit OSs. Also note that some of the products, such as 1Password, require a very recent iOS version (in its case, v6 or later), while others are more inclusive.

n What else can you store in your vault?

Some products (such as RoboForm and LastPass) can store other things besides passwords in their vaults, such as notes and files and keep everything encrypted and safe. Think of them as a poor substitute for whole disk encryption, but at least this offers some protection for the contents therein. 1Password has the largest collection of items that it can store in its vault.

n What browser versions are supported?

All of the products except Lieberman offer browser-plug-ins that can automatically record and supply your passwords for particular websites. Some support older and odder browser versions, some are less flexible.

n Can you save passwords for local server logins as well as Active Directory credentials too?

Lieberman is the only product here and is designed to operate across all your local network server logins, with a long list of supported systems. The others are geared towards capturing Web server logins.

n Can they work with accounts that have two-factor authentication?

Some of the products, such as LastPass and Lieberman, offer this additional protection.

n Can they protect you from your own mistakes?

Some of the products have nice features that can secure your passwords further, such as automatically closing their vault after a certain amount of idle PC time, turning off auto-fill options on your browser, or warning you of other dangerous practices.

n Can an enterprise centrally manage the tool?

Three of the products come with various management tools.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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