Sync Your Passwords on Windows, Mac and Smartphones

Category: Security

How can I store and sync my passwords, so they will be available to me everywhere? I've got a PC and a Mac in my home, and I carry a laptop and smartphone as well. Is there a single password manager that will sync across all my desktops, browsers, and mobile devices?

Password Managers For Multiple Devices

Few people use just one device for their online activities these days. Many use a PC, laptop, smartphone, public Internet terminals, and work computers. For all of the devices you use every day, it would be nice to have one password management solution.

You could store all of your passwords in a password manager program that resides on a USB thumb drive. But then you'd have to worry about losing the drive, and having a USB port to plug it into on the device that you plan to use. Your library and other public places probably block USB drives from their computers for security reasons.

The ideal solution is to store your passwords online, in a cloud-based app that can be accessed from any device that has a Web browser. That's the direction that many password management solutions are going. It has its pros and cons.
Password Sync - Windows, Mac, Mobile

On the plus side, all of your passwords are in one centralized and (hopefully) secure place. If your laptop is lost or stolen, your passwords are still available to you and may not be available to whoever ends up with the device. If you change a password while using your phone, the new password will be available when you use your laptop.

On the other hand, access to your passwords depends on having Internet access. If there is an outage in your local area, you may not be able to access password-protected data on the device you are using. Also, your passwords are exposed to eavesdroppers as they are transmitted to or from the device you are using, unless the connection is encrypted. And no matter what the password keeper's policy says, there's always the chance that someone may access your password database on the provider's server.

Dropbox, the popular online syncing service, plays a role in several password management programs. Dropbox provides the syncing and cloud storage portion of the solution, and must be installed on all of your devices. Because Dropbox is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as the most popular mobile platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry), it offers a solution that meets the needs of those who use both a desktop computer and mobile smartphone.

Cross-Platform Password Managers

That said, companies like RoboForm, LastPass, 1Password and SafeWallet provide simplified access and syncing for all of the passwords you use. Each of these services offers client software for a variety of devices and operating systems. Some use Dropbox, while others use their own proprietary cloud service to store your logins and passwords. Some are free, while others charge a modest fee, or offer a premium paid version. Here's a summary:

  • RoboForm Free: Limited to 10 stored logins, does not auto-sync or support mobile devices. No cloud storage.
  • RoboForm Everywhere: Costs $19.95/year; unlimited logins, auto-sync across multiple desktops, browsers and mobile devices. Uses proprietary cloud storage.
  • LastPass Free: Unlimited logins, sync across multiple desktops and browsers, does not support mobile devices. Uses proprietary cloud storage.
  • LastPass Premium: Costs $1 per month; Unlimited logins, sync across multiple desktops, browsers and mobile devices. Uses proprietary cloud storage.
  • 1Password: Costs $39 per person per platform (one-time, no annual renewal fee); Unlimited logins, sync across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android (no support for Linux or Blackberry). Uses DropBox for cloud storage.
  • SafeWallet: Costs $15 for Windows or Mac version, $4 for Android or iPhone; Unlimited logins, sync across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or Blackberry (no support for Linux). Uses DropBox for cloud storage.

I know some folks will wonder why I didn't mention Keepass, another popular password manager. The reason is simple... although Keepass is free and open source, it doesn't fit the bill as a cross-platform solution. Keepass is for Windows only, unless you run the portable version under the Mono framework, which is a bit complicated to set up. It also doesn't offer password syncing across mobile devices. Yes, there are some unofficial versions of Keepass for Android, iOS and Blackberry, but you should consider these as experimental, until they are folded into the official Keepass project.

Do you sync passwords across multiple computers, operating systems, and mobile devices? Tell us your preferred method, and why it works best for you. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Sync Your Passwords on Windows, Mac and Smartphones"

Posted by:

Michael Meder
22 Feb 2012

Roboform has been my best friend for a very long time, and works across platforms without issue every time. Best $19.95 I spend each year.

Posted by:

Tom S
22 Feb 2012

I used to store passwords and other confidential information in a password protected Excel file. It made me nervous because that's not hard to break into. I installed LastPass free version after researching the options and now feel totally secure. I've used it to change a lot of my simple passwords to random passwords generated by LastPass. I no longer have my browser store passwords. LastPass fills the password field for me. I liked it so well after using it that I paid for the full version in order to install it on my mobile phone. Highly recommended.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

Don't forget, it is a great open source online password keeper, and you can download the information for local storage/backup. I use it for all my passwords, credit cards numbers, etc. The passwords are kept encrypted, so if you loose your master password you (and nobody) can't access the information.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

I've been using Lastpass at home with the idea of accessing the cloud when at the library. Sad to say that doesn't work for whatever the reason. All that is in the cloud is the URL. No passwords.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

How about mSecure password manager by mSevensoftware? Just wondering if it suffices as a cross-platform password manager.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

I believe you forgot SplashID. It's cross platform and syncs but does not keep your passwords in the cloud. I believe this maybe the lowest risk because there's no cloud to be compromised.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

I use DataVault by Ascendo. Not cheap (iPad/iPhone - $10, Blackberry and Windows desktop bundle $30) but it does what I need. I don't trust storing this type of data online, so I wanted local storage with the data on more than one device to cover hardware failure. This means I do have to manually sync to keep things up to date on all devices.

Templates - I really like the templates that are available, but still have the flexibility to quickly modify them to match my preferences.

Organization - Other products that I've tried gave me one massive list, possibly moving the most recently used to the top. A HUGE plus for me with DataVault is the tree structure of the records. I can make folders and put records in categories.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2012

I use Roboform Everywhere which works very well for me no matter which browser I'm using. Haven't tried it on my phone, only desktops.

Posted by:

Jonathan Baker
22 Feb 2012

Am I missing something here? Why would allowing one's passwords to be stored "in the cloud", i.e., on a remote server, be considered safe? That question applies to all documents one considers personal and/or proprietary. We are all concerned about our privacy but blithely accept the growing shift from storage on one's own computer to "cloud" storage as though it were as safe as storage at home. It doesn't make sense to me.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'd argue that data stored in the cloud is MUCH safer than files stored on a local hard drive. Do you use 256-bit encryption for your sensitive files at home? How about strong physical security that includes gated perimeter access, 24x7 on-site security guards, and security cameras? Do you have a fire detection and suppression system, backup power, and a disaster recovery plan in the event of hurricane, flood or earthquake? You can bet your cloud storage provider has all that and more in place to safeguard your data.

Posted by:

23 Feb 2012

I prefer eWallet, although syncing has to be done manually. Not comfy with cloud services for security reasons......

Posted by:

Jonathan Baker
23 Feb 2012

So are you saying that there have been no security breeches at banks, in the government and elsewhere? I know for a fact that there have been, as I have received letters from two different sources telling me that their servers had been hacked. I guess the gated perimeter access, 24/7 security guard, security cameras, fire detection suppression systems, backup power and their recovery plans in case of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes just wasn't enough to prevent data theft. I'll keep my data safely at home, behind my firewall, where I have had zero theft. At least I'm not as obvious a target for hackers as the remote servers are. To a hacker they are a potential gold mine, where as I am but a grain of sand on the beach.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nope, not saying there has never been a breach. But even if your cloud storage provider was hacked, your encrypted password database is useless to them. It's true that "security by obscurity" often works, but you don't have to live in fear of cloud storage.

Posted by:

Bruce Tech Guy
23 Feb 2012

I use KeePass as a cross-platform solution, as there is a KeePassX project, which uses the same data and same basic screen layouts.
The caveat is that I use the 1.x series of KeePass, as there is no Mac analog for the 2.0 series which uses a different data store structure.

I carry my encrypted kdb data file on my USB flash drive(s) and the KeePass apps (which are small & portable), thus I always have access to my passwords on either Windows or Mac. Have been using the pair KeePass/KeePassX for a few years now, and it works well for me.

I had tried LastPass for a while some time back, but did not like the way it took over all control of password usage in my browser. As there are some sites that I do not want the browser to remember or enter, since I have several different logins to the site, and prefer to make my own choice.
Though, their password analysis feature is pretty nifty.

Posted by:

24 Feb 2012

I simply keep my passwords in a password protected document on my hard drive and email a copy to myself. I can access the email anywhere when I go online.

Posted by:

Jonathan Baker
24 Feb 2012

I'm not fearful of "cloud computing", I'm skeptical. A wikipedia article entitled "Operation Aurora" is good reading and supports my contention that storage on remote servers are not the be-all and end-all in the security of data. Humans are over-confident, over-looking and very clever. In the long run, I contend that greater safety of personal data is achieved by not letting go of it, 256-bit encryption not withstanding. With growth of computational power that we have witnessed, 256-bit encryption may soon join the ranks of 128-bit and 64-bit encryption, if it hasn't already. After all, you know what they say about 7 billion monkeys doing things on typewriters....

BTW, I enjoy reading your articles and often learn new things from them. Please don't feel that this discussion is anything but that - a discussion.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Point, and counterpoint -- all good stuff! :-)

Posted by:

06 Mar 2012

I have used RoboForm for a couple years now, but only the paid desktop version. I just don't trust the cloud version. I understand your arguments regarding the security of the cloud, but when I don't know the company's security practices regarding access to their data center, servers and customer data, as well as their data backup procedures, I tend to be more skeptical. Large businesses would not blindly trust their critical data with another company without knowing these things, and so I don't see why individuals should. Needless to say, I'm living without the option to sync across multiple devices.

I am happy with the desktop version of RF, but I see a lot of room for improvement. One specific annoyance is the almost weekly appearance of a new version to install. I have tested other programs, and have just started to test LastPass Free to see how it stacks up. Thanks for the article. As always, very helpful.

Posted by:

Louise Smith
03 Oct 2013

Call me a Luddite.
I use an encrypted file program called Secret! by Linkesoft.

It is available for Windows, Android, webOS, BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Mac OS X, and Palm.

I have a home network and the data file is on my NAS drive and I copy it regularly to both laptops, so that if I take a laptop with me, I have the file. The version on the main laptop also gets backed up with Carbonite. It does a lot more than just passwords and I feel totally SECURE.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2013

Started with RoboForm when password recording began to be a problem, but moved to LastPass and have used it for several years with few problems.

Posted by:

runny babbitt
18 Oct 2013

just saw a popup ad for DASHLANE. I wonder if it was around to be reviewed when you reviewed the other packages. Have no idea yet if it is any good.

Thanks as always for your excellent coverage.

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