Best tools for protecting passwords

Passwords are a security weak link, but these products help shield passwords from attackers

LastPass can integrate with the standard Windows Login process to automatically create new users and sign existing users in.

One of the things we liked about LastPass is that upon install (and you can run this security check afterwards as well) it tells you which insecure passwords your browsers (or password vault) have already saved, and gives you the option to remove them.

Another is that it synchronizes your logins via its own cloud service: once you create a login to its cloud, things are updated for your various entries. Sometimes the updates took a few minutes to propagate around the Internet. In addition to logins, their vault also stores text notes securely and can auto-fill online forms.

LastPass automatically installs its browser plug-ins, where you can manually add sites, or notes, to its vault, along with other configuration tasks.

Also included in the software is a complex password generator that has a few interesting options, such as the ability to set a password that you can easily pronounce and with a minimum complexity. You can either bring this up from the browser plug-in menu or from the Web client.

LastPass is free for the individual user, and you get the full functionality of the tool this way so IT managers can easily check it out and see how it works. Once you are ready to upgrade to the enterprise version, you can start a free two-week trial, after which it will cost you $24 per user per year. This includes the ability to use all of its smartphone clients; otherwise you will need to subscribe to a Premium account, which is $12 a year per user. We like this simplicity and ease of getting familiar with the product.

Finally, the various client modules for LastPass have better interface consistency among themselves than most of the other tools we reviewed.

Lieberman Enterprise Random Password Manager

Lieberman’s password solution is aimed at a different market than most of the other products in this review. Their idea is to strengthen privileged accounts and shared administrative access to critical local Windows and Linux servers. Typically, many users access the same privileged account and all of them need to know the password.

Given that many enterprises have dozens if not hundreds of servers, it is easy to overlook that many of them have stale admin accounts or don’t know where they are located. A common situation is being able to change all local admin passwords on a regular basis.

The Lieberman tool discovers and strengthens all server passwords and then encrypts them and stores them in a special database. You can choose from 128- to 256-bit lengths for AES encryption as well. ERPM creates unique and complex passwords that you don’t need to remember, and changes them as often as your password policies require, including daily if you are ultra paranoid. Each account login can have a different schedule and complexity requirement.

ERPM handles passwords on Windows service accounts, IIS accounts, SQL Server and Oracle database accounts, SharePoint, Directory Services, and Linux and other major platforms, both physical and virtual servers. As an enterprise product, it is designed to work with a variety of configuration management repositories such as CA, IBM and BMC’s CMDB software and with system management tools such as Microsoft System Center, HP Operations Center and Arcsight.

All of these accounts are discovered without the need to install any agents on individual servers. Once it does find these accounts, ERPM will automatically detect password changes and make the updates across all the various systems and devices.

Installation is a bit of a hassle with a huge list of prerequisite software to support its services. We installed it on a box running an early version of Windows 8.1 and chose the default mySQL database for its password store. But once you get through this process, it is easy to maintain. One of its advantages is a continuous real-time automated account discovery of potential target accounts. You can also add accounts from your Active Directory store, from scanning particular IP address ranges, or individually. The new accounts are placed into a batch “change control” job that can be run regularly to update your password collection.

ERPM also includes a variety of audit reports so you can satisfy various compliance requirements and can output its information to various file formats for further processing by security management software. A number of preconfigured reports come with the software to get you started.

Lieberman supports various multi-factor authentication tools, including RSA SecurID and YubiKey, along with other one-time methods. Users can be authorized for particular accounts to either recover or reset specific passwords too.

One nifty feature of ERPM is being able to recover a password through its Web client. Any user with the right access rights can use it, and these requests are logged as well. You can also set up rather complex workflows to approve privilege escalation requests.

Lieberman also works with a third-party tool called Balabit’s Shell Control Box, an activity monitoring appliance, to restrict user access to privileged resources.

The biggest downside to ERPM is its cost. The entry-level price tag is a steep $25,000, but that includes unlimited users and accounts. Given the rather unique market position for ERPM, this could be a reason why it is so pricey.

Agilebits 1Password

1Password is an individual consumer product without any enterprise management capabilities. It has versions for Windows including Windows 8, Mac, iOS and Android phones. The Windows 8 support is fine with non-IE browsers: if you use IE, you have to bring it up from the desktop and not from the Metro interface, although they are working on fixing that.

The software sets up a local password vault and then synchronizes the vault using a variety of cloud-based external services, such as Dropbox or iCloud. We had issues getting this synchronization to work initially because the instructions are somewhat ambiguous. But once this is setup it works as intended. When you bring up the app – either on your desktop, in your mobile smartphone, or the browser plug-in — you are asked for your master vault password to unlock it. You can then add new services or recall particular passwords or information from the vault.

One of the biggest advantages with 1Password is that it has an extensive collection of different kinds of things that it can protect inside its vault, including credit card numbers, text notes, and software license information along with the usual login identities. Everything placed in the vault can be accessed on every other platform, which is very convenient. You can also add file attachments to each login record, this could be useful to include copies of your emails or pictures of your contract signatures as handy references.

There are a number of additional features for the iOS version, such as sending you to a secure browser session where you can clear any Web-based data for additional security. There is also a demo mode where you can show your associates how the software works without revealing any actual passwords, since mobile users like to share their apps more often. Eventually, these features will find their way into the desktop and browser versions.

The software also has a number of protective options that keep you from tripping your own mistakes on its preferences screen. This includes the ability to clear the clipboard and lock the vault on exiting the app or when the desktop screen saver is active. On the desktop preferences, you can see at a glance which browser plug-ins you have installed and which isn’t protected, that is a handy reference.

All 1Password versions include a strong password generator, where you can set up a random password. You can adjust the slider control for particular length and complexity (the highest grade of password beyond Excellent is Fantastic). On some of its generator tools, you can also choose whether the password is pronounceable, uses non-ambiguous characters, and allows for repeating characters. It would be nice for Agilebits to update its versions to offer consistent features across the browser, desktop and mobile versions.

1Password doesn’t support as many smartphones as LastPass, and its synchronization could use some attention, but otherwise is a fine tool for individual password use. Pricing is also simple: each copy sells for a $50 one-time fee.

RoboForm Enterprise

RoboForm, as you might surmise from its name, approaches bulk password management from the forms automation business. It is a study in contrasts. In its favor are its solid password management features. There are two disadvantages: how the software is constructed and supported.

Getting the software installed is a bear, and will require a certain sequence of prerequisites that aren’t well documented. This isn’t helped by the lack of support that we received. Our problem was unique: In the middle of our review, the team responsible for supporting the Enterprise software left the company. Hopefully, by the time you read this, this vacuum will be filled. Once you get everything installed, you shouldn’t have too many issues getting it deployed to end users because it comes in several handy packages, including Windows MSIs.

The software is sold in several versions, including Pro, Enterprise, and managed console (which seems like an odd name). Each are priced differently in two basic configurations: a standalone Workstation version and an Enterprise version. The console software costs $5,000 for the first 50 users, with volume discounts, and an annual maintenance fee of $1,000 on top of that. The Workstation licenses are charged by user and by device, so you want to stick with the Enterprise pricing. Yes, this is confusing.

The managed console includes the cloud synchronization service called Everywhere. This means that every hour (or more often if you change the default), users’ passwords are synchronized from their vaults, so they can access them from whatever device they choose. There is another add-on module called 2Go, where you can copy your password vault to a USB thumb drive and move it around. And there is also a Web client, which is useful on a borrowed PC for example.

The tool comes with a browser plug-in that can access its features like other products reviewed here, including bringing up a complex password generator and a button to force synchronization with its cloud service. The plug-in also contains various menus, such as for configuration control, to set up new logins, and to support a Windows biometric fingerprint reader.

You can set up autologoff time outs for screensavers or when the PC goes into standby, as most of the other products reviewed here also can do. One differentiation is that it creates a portal start page where you can directly click on your saved logins, similar to how Single Sign On products operate. You can save both files and logins to its vault, and you can also assign files to particular users or groups for secure collaborations.

The product has the second widest mobile OS support, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. It supports Chrome, IE, Firefox and Opera browsers and has a status screen showing you which browser plug-ins have been installed, although IE information is segregated to another set of screens for some odd reason.


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