Free Password Managers – Live Testing

Banner of Free Password Managers

One of the most useful tools a person can use in their online life is a password manager. A password manager is a tool used to store records of a person’s usernames and passwords for their accounts. This can be used for any account, from email to social media. Luckily, there are many free password managers available to use. Our project at the Leahy Center is to investigate free password managers. We are ranking five password managers on their security, user-friendliness, and customizability. However, because of the time it takes to complete live testing, so far we have only tested two password managers: KeePass and RoboForm.

Current Tests

KeePass

Step 1: Examine the layout

At first glance, KeePass seems outdated. The interface isn’t as simple as other password managers, and there are an abundance of tabs. The options under each tab seem to go on forever. That doesn’t even include the options under the application settings! But KeePass has a secret: customization. There are dozens of plugins available for download. Plugins are downloadable software add-ons that provide extra settings for base application. All in all, KeePass is one of the best password managers for layout, but if you are not very tech minded, our team would advise you to steer clear.

Step 2: Test the creation of accounts

Creating a password can seem intimidating, but is actually a simple process. The key is to let KeePass do most of the work. To start, right click on the open window and select “Add Entry” from the menu. This takes you to a window that allows you to  add a title for the entry, a username, a URL and finally your password. Conveniently, KeePass will generate a password for you. This means you never have to worry about sufficient complexity or remembering an impossibly long password.

Once you have created the password it will appear on a table in the main KeePass window. You can also categorize your passwords through tags. On top of being able to create a password, you can also configure KeePass to automatically type in your passwords. This feature, unfortunately, requires a bit of fiddling to get working. If you are not a very techy person it will not be as easy to use.

Step 3: Use within browsers

Using KeePass in a browser can be inconvenient at times , but it is one of the most universal password managers. This is because it employs simulated key presses; you need to activate the auto type from within KeePass, but because of this it works in any browser as long as there is a text field. If you cannot get the auto type to work you can simply copy and paste the password from KeePass. However, like auto type, this requires you to keep switching between KeePass and your browser. There is a keyboard shortcut that can be applied (Ctrl-V), yet still it can be an inconvenience to keep switching. Overall, using KeePass can get tedious but its universality is unparalleled.

Preliminary Conclusion

In conclusion, KeePass is an excellent free password manager. It is open source and more secure than other free password managers. It takes advantage of simulated keypresses instead of cloud storage. There are some downsides to it though. You can’t sync your password vault across devices and it does take a bit of work to learn how to use KeePass to its full potential. While we would not recommend KeePass for widespread commercial use, if you are computer savvy and you don’t want to put your trust in cloud storage, then this would be the perfect manager for your personal use.

Verdict: Alan Turing Approves!

RoboForm

Step 1: Examine the layout

RoboForm is similar to their predecessors in the organization style. Tabs along the left side display the account types and important settings, with the more advanced options in a drop-down bar at the top. This makes it easy for quick access, as more of the advanced options are underneath the drop-down bar.

However, that doesn’t make RoboForm a perfect fit; the only way to create accounts is from the browser extensions themselves. Even then, the records are only created after you sign into the account, which then RoboForm will prompt for you to save the account. The only ways to reach the Help section are available through the desktop application and by searching RoboForm’s website. There isn’t a Help section within the browser extension. This doesn’t mean that RoboForm is a bad password manager. All it means is that it is probably better to install both the browser extension and the desktop application for you to get the full experience.

Step 2: Test the creation of accounts

As mentioned previously, RoboForm will only allow you to create a record through the browser extension after you sign into an account. This can be a bit of a pain, as that means you can only create records this way. However, you can import records through the desktop application straight from a browser or other password manager, or even a CSV file. There isn’t the full range of import options available in other password managers, but it is a fair amount.

You can also launch the website from the manager, where it will autofill your data and log you in. It isn’t a revolutionary idea, but it does work. There’s also a variety of records that can be created. One special feature is that RoboForm can save records for other desktop applications. This isn’t seen as much for free password managers. The Security Center is also quite useful, telling you your password’s strength, age, and if it has been reused or is a duplicate. The feature is usually only available in paid password managers, so this is a great incentive for RoboForm!

Step 3: Use within browsers

RoboForm provides extensions for the four core web browsers: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. There are also extensions for Internet Explorer and Safari. As for the actual use of the extension, everything works. Auto-fill works, updating passwords after a change is automatic, and there is syncing across browsers, with a customizable password generator available when you create an account. Of course, you can only create records after signing in, but you can edit your records from the extension as well as print the list of records. You can even access the Security Center from the extension! All in all, the browser extension seems more developed than the desktop application. So, if you have to pick between the desktop application and the browser extension, I recommend the extension.

Preliminary Conclusion

RoboForm is a comprehensive password manager with both free and paid versions available. However, after examining the free version, I see no need currently to upgrade from the free, as there are a great many deal of features available already. The only benefits I can see to upgrading would be cloud storage and for syncing across devices. In conclusion, RoboForm is great for people who need a simplistic password manager that aren’t worried as much about customizing their record-keeping and manager.

Verdict: Get it for Mom!