Like many former LastPass users, I was offended when the company issued an ultimatum to non-paying customers last year. I’ve since switched to Bitwarden and haven’t looked back.
Without a $36-per-year subscription, LastPass now limits users to one device type – mobile or desktop – per account. This means free users must choose between accessing their passwords on a laptop and a phone, which is not a choice for many people.
While I’m not fundamentally against paying for useful services, I don’t like being forced to pay for something when a company can’t make its freemium business model work. With password managers in particular, there are many other options, both free and paid, that work just as well as LastPass.
And so, I took my years of LastPass passwords and transferred them to Bitwarden, another free password manager for basic personal use. The transition was virtually painless, although I encountered a few obstacles along the way.
While my colleagues Michael Ansaldo and Alaina Yee have written a thorough review of Bitwarden, I thought I’d share a little more about my personal experience with the software, as well as some ways to make it work even better.
Password managers: a recap
As a reminder, password managers are a great way to break the bad habit of using the same or similar passwords across multiple apps or websites, or even having to remember a lot of passwords in the first place. Here’s how it works, using Bitwarden as an example:
Install the Bitwarden extension for your web browser and the Bitwarden app on iOS or Android.
Create a Bitwarden account and set up a master password—preferably one that is strong and memorable. You’ll need this if you haven’t logged into Bitwarden in a while, or if you’re setting up a new device, so consider writing it down and locking it in a safe place.
Whenever you log into a website with your browser, Bitwarden will show a message offering to save your login credentials. Do this every time.
When signing up for new services, use the Bitwarden extension or app to generate strong passwords (such as “7S$b@!QBA12”).
When logging into an account, use Bitwarden to fill in these login details.
This certainly sounds like an annoyance, which is why I suspect a lot of people don’t mind. But once you develop the muscle memory of using a password manager, it’s hard to go back to not having one.
Why use Bitwarden as your password manager?
I’ll be honest: I chose Bitwarden mainly because it’s free, but also because it’s open source, recommended by writers I trust, and works on a wide variety of devices.
Today, you’ll find that big tech companies are improving their own password management capabilities. On iOS and Mac, for example, Apple can generate secure passwords on websites and apps, and it now offers a Chrome extension for Windows. But looking up your passwords can be difficult if you have to do it manually, and Android devices, Chromebooks, or the Firefox browser are not supported. The password management features of Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome have their own limitations that may prevent you from using certain browsers, and on top of that, I like the idea of not tying all my online credentials to a tech giant.
In the long run, I think these integrated solutions will eventually replace password managers for a lot of people, but I don’t think they’re ready yet. Meanwhile, Bitwarden is pretty much a replacement for LastPass minus the subscription fees. Plus, Bitwarden’s migration guide made switching from LastPass super easy.
That’s not to say Bitwarden was perfect out of the box. To preserve some of LastPass’s comforts, I had to make some adjustments.
On the web, for example, I suggest going to Settings > Options and checking “Enable autocomplete on page load”, which fills your information into most login forms without any interaction on your part. Also in Settings, consider changing the Vault timeout action to “Lock” and enabling “Unlock with PIN” or “Unlock with Biometrics” to avoid having to re-enter your master password every time you open your browser.
Jared Newman / Foundry
You will also want to connect Bitwarden to your phone’s autocomplete settings. That way, by saving a login via the Bitwarden extension, you can quickly access it through apps and websites on your phone.
On iOS, go to iOS Settings > Passwords > Autofill Passwordsthen check Bitwarden.
On Android, go to Bitwarden Settings > Autofill Servicesand then check “Autocomplete Service”. This opens another menu where you can select Bitwarden as your password source. (I suggest enabling the “Accessibility” and “Draw” options as well.)
Jared Newman / Foundry
Finally, make sure you set up biometric unlocking in the BITwarden mobile apps so you don’t have to re-enter your master password for each login. You will find the option “Unlock with Biometrics” or “Unlock with FaceID” in the Bitwarden settings menu.
free x paid
Of course, Bitwarden is not just a free service. A $10-a-year upgrade lets you generate authentication codes for services that offer two-step logins, as well as providing encrypted file storage and “health reports” that warn of compromised passwords. Many of these advantages, however, can be circumvented with other free services.
For example, I’m using Authy for two-factor authentication codes. And if you use Chrome or Edge, you can simultaneously save your logins in any browser to take advantage of the respective leak alerts. For encrypted storage of sensitive documents, I use OneDrive’s Personal Vault feature.
Fortunately, BitWarden can do a better job selling people to its paid service than LastPass. But if not, all this exercise has me ready to change again.
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