Passwords are often the only thing standing between a hacker and your online accounts. This guide will introduce you to using 1Password to create strong, unique passwords. As a bonus, we’ll show how password managers can also help you save time when filling out login screens and online forms. It’s an easy way to make browsing the web easier, faster, and more secure.
Why it’s a good idea to use unique passwords
I don’t think I need to convince anyone that passwords are annoying. It’s hard to remember them, so everyone uses the same password for all of their accounts. You know this, I know this. But hackers also know this.
If you use the same password everywhere, a hacker only needs to get your password once in order to break into many of your online accounts. And it seems like every week, we hear about a massive new password breach. (Think about how we recently learned that all of Yahoo’s 3 billion accounts were breached in 2013.)
Imagine if an attacker used your single, easy-to-remember password to access your health care records, your home address, credit card numbers, or your social security number. To minimize the damage from a breach, you should use unique passwords on each account. But it can be a challenge to remember each password.
Enter password managers
Password managers make it easy to remember a single password, and still have long, unique passwords on all of your accounts. How is this possible? You use just one password to unlock your secure password “vault.” From your vault, you can quickly fill out login forms on all of your devices.
A few password managers are usually recommended by security specialists, including LastPass, KeePassXC, and 1Password. I wrote a guide on LastPass for beginners, as well as KeePassXC for beginners. For now I am focusing on 1Password, perhaps the most user-friendly password manager recommended by specialists.
1Password enables you to sync your passwords across all of your devices using the same password vault. It also has browser extensions that allow you to automatically fill out passwords in your browser. It’s easy to use. 1Password is relatively cheap — $2.99 each month. Alternatively you can pay one time and buy a license for $65 with Mac or Windows. (Not everyone wants to pay that much. If you’re interested in a cheaper alternative, consider LastPass. Check out my LastPass guide.)
Go to 1Password.com and hit the “Try 1Password free” button in the top right corner of the page. On the signup page, type in your email. You should receive an email from 1Password (email@example.com) with a link. Click the link to confirm that you own the email address and fill out the form.
During the signup process, you will see a screen that says “Meet your secret Account Key.” Write down or store the account key somewhere safe. If you lose it, your account cannot be easily recovered, so be sure it’s somewhere you can find it.
Next, we’ll create our Master Password that unlocks your password database. This is the only password that you need to remember. It needs to be a *really* good one, so no one can guess it. Consider using a long password with upper and lower cased letters, numbers, and symbols. Alternatively, use a passphrase — a phrase that only you will remember. Unusual passphrases can help to make them more memorable. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden offers the example, “Margaret Thatcher is 110% sexy.” It’s long, has upper- and lower-cased letters, numbers, symbols, and spaces. And it’s hard to forget.
To log in, you need both your master password and your account key, which is tied to your device. This combination helps to lock remote attackers out of your account.
Create your password vault
Click “New Vault,” and name it. This will be where you store your passwords.
1Password supports Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android devices. Click your name at the top right, and go to “Get the Apps.” With the links on the left, download the app for your devices. Use the instructions on the right to set up 1Password for your device. (Alternatively download 1Password here for your devices. For mobile devices, you can also search for 1Password in the Google Play store or the App Store. While logged into the website, click here for your QR information.)
1Password will automatically sync your passwords across each device after you log in. Open it! If you can’t find 1Password on your machine, you can also find the file here:
Windows — C:/Program Files/1Password
Mac — Username/Applications/1Password
Logging into the app
Click “Sign in to your 1Password account”, and then click “Sign in” on the next screen. Drag the window over your QR code to scan it. This will automatically fill your account details within 1Password. Alternatively, you can type in your account information by hand. Finally, enter your master password. (Again, it’s the only way to get into your vault, so don’t forget it!)
Now you can log in on the app. You can use the same login process on your mobile device.
Going full speed with browser extensions
1Password is a strong standalone application, but it becomes truly powerful once you use browser extensions to auto-fill forms online. You can use the 1Password extension on Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer. You can download 1Password extension for your browser here.
After you download the extension, you should see it in your browser. Look for the 1Password icon (above) which normally appears to the right of your browser’s search bar. You can access your vault from there.
Try logging into any page you normally visit. 1Password will pop up, and ask if you’d like to save your credentials. You can make adjustments, and then click “Save Login” to add the new login to your 1Password vault.
Once your browser extensions are installed, you can use shortcuts to automatically open 1Password or auto-fill login credentials. You can auto-fill using this keyboard shortcut in your browser.
Windows users: Ctrl + \ (control, backslash)
Mac users: Command + \ (command, backslash)
Saving and changing passwords
1Password will automatically invite you to save passwords to your vault once you enter your credentials with the browser extension enabled. But the real benefit of 1Password is to allow you to generate long, randomized passwords that you don’t need to remember. Consider changing the passwords on the websites you visit most often, and updating them in 1Password. The application will offer to update your login information after you change your password.
When you create a new account online, 1Password will also offer to add the credentials to your vault. Be sure to use the application to randomize your passwords when possible.
The main downside of 1Password
Once you’ve set up 1Password, it can be very annoying to log in without it (e.g., if you want to log in on your friend’s computer). If you know you’re going to frequently use a password on a computer that does not have your 1Password information, you may want to commit the password to memory rather than randomizing it.
Create logins manually
You can manually create logins by opening 1Password, and clicking “File” > “New Item” > “Login.” From there, you can fill out credentials manually.
Save and fill information beyond passwords.
Just like with passwords, you can save and fill other types of information in your browser, such as credit cards. To find other types of data you can easily fill out with 1Password, open the application and go to “File” > “New Item.”
You’re up to speed with 1Password. I hope this has been helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out here, or on Twitter at @mshelton.
Updated November 15, 2019.