Are Browser-Based Password Managers Safe or Dangerous?

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When it comes to password management, you can find (along with a good memory or paper and pen) options that include browser-based password managers. However, these come with some potential pitfalls that you should be aware of before choosing to use them.

Online security cannot be complete without password security, which has given rise to various tools and practices to safeguard our virtual lives.

Because we are all aware that the internet, a vast and interconnected world of its own, is home to a diverse array of individuals with different motives, occupations, and interests. And not everyone out there is a friend.

One common solution that has gained popularity in recent years is using browser-based password managers to tackle the issue of generating and storing passwords.

Browser-based password managers are tools integrated into web browsers that help you generate, store, and manage your passwords for different websites. They can be found on Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

While core features like password autofill and password generator are embedded in these browser-based password managers, there are also potential pitfalls that make them unsafe, particularly compared to standalone password managers that only interact lightly with your browser.

Do these pitfalls make using these types of password managers a bad idea? Let’s find out.

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5 Reasons Why Browser-Based Password Managers Are Unsafe

We’ll explore five of the many reasons why entrusting the safety of your digital identity and sensitive data like passwords to the management of web browsers is a bad idea.

In the course of this article, we’ll also highlight the alternatives one can use instead of free web-based password managers.

1. Dependency on Browser Security – A Single Point of Failure

The security of browser-based password managers depends on the web browser’s security. The implication is that if the browser experiences any form of vulnerability or is compromised in any way, all stored passwords could be exposed, making it a potential single point of failure for users.

This is possible because all browser-based password managers operate within the confines of the web browser, which poses a considerable risk due to the centralization of data within the browser.

To better understand this, imagine a widely-used browser like Google Chrome encountering a security breach, this could compromise the database where users store their passwords.

Like a master key that unlocks all doors – if compromised, every lock the master key usually opens is at risk, and things can be stolen or used against the owners of the unlocked rooms. To avert this, users should adopt additional security layers, such as standalone password managers, to navigate potential vulnerabilities.

2. Limited Encryption

It is commonplace that password managers are only as good and secure as the master password that grants you access to them. Not all browser-based password managers have robust encryption measures to guarantee strong security for your stored passwords. While they implement some level of encryption, it may not be as secure as needed, increasing the vulnerability of passwords to cybercrime, which is a massive threat to your online safety.

While speaking to Techopedia on this subject, Josh Amishav, the Founder and CEO at Breachsense, stated that. “Browser-based password managers aren’t safe because the passwords are not encrypted. For example, a malware like Infostealer grabs all of the passwords stored in the browser in plaintext and includes them in their logs.”

Additionally, since browser-based password managers operate within the same environment as your web browser, they inherit any security risks associated with the browser itself. Owing to their low encryption levels, most browser-based password managers are susceptible to phishing attacks, where attackers attempt to trick users into revealing sensitive information, including master passwords.

Unlike dedicated password managers, which often employ advanced encryption techniques and provide a higher level of protection, browsers might compromise on the security they offer.

3. Lack of Advanced Security Features

One significant drawback of browser-based password managers is their limited advanced features. In contrast to dedicated password managers, most browser-based PW managers have limited advanced features like password strength indicators, alerts for weak or compromised passwords, integrated two-factor authentication (2FA) methods, and the ability to enforce complex password policies to monitor passwords’ health and security.

Eddy Abou-Nehme, Owner and Director of Operations at RevNet Ottawa, noted to Techopedia that “browser-based password managers offer basic level security, which is insufficient to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.”

“Any password manager that does not use two-factor authentication can be hacked if the master password is exposed. Additionally, hackers may gain access if your computer gets infected with trojans or spyware.”

Beyond passwords, users often need to store sensitive information such as secure notes or documents. While browser-based managers often lack this capability, dedicated solutions provide safe vaults for storing confidential data. Some password managers with these advanced security features include LastPass, 1Password, Bitwarden, and Dashlane.

They’re Not All Bad: Here Are Our Best Reviewed Password Managers

4. Limited Sharing Options

Standalone password managers typically offer more secure sharing options, such as sharing passwords with specific people or groups of people. They may also allow you to set expiration dates for shared passwords so the password can no longer be accessed after a certain period.

Browser-based password managers often have limited sharing options for passwords with specific permissions and timeframes, making it difficult to securely share passwords with colleagues or family members.

For example, if you need to share a password with a colleague, you may need to send them the password in an email or text message.

This is not a secure way to share passwords, as it may compromise the security of shared credentials in group settings by making it easy for the password to be intercepted by an unauthorized person.

5. Limited Cross-Platform Functionality and Access

Using a web-based password manager limits you to using just that browser across platforms and devices as they are browser-specific. To clarify this, imagine a student or an employee using a Windows laptop, an iPad, and an Android phone.

They use Google Chrome for browsing at work or school and have set up a browser-based password manager that integrates seamlessly with Chrome. However, at home, they prefer using Safari on their iPads. The cross-platform limitation becomes evident in this scenario.

The Chrome-powered password manager may have excellent compatibility on the Windows laptop but might not have a dedicated extension or integration for the Safari, which they use on the iPad.

As a result, the user experiences a lack of synchronization between their work and home environments, making it inconvenient to access and manage passwords uniformly across devices and browsers.

Again, while you likely use many accounts online, there are probably some accounts accessed through desktop or mobile apps. In such situations, a browser-based password manager may not be effective in helping you autofill, organize, and manage your information across these different platforms.

So, the lack of compatibility across different platforms makes it challenging to manage passwords consistently and may lead to less secure habits and shortcuts, like using the same password everywhere, which isn’t safe.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to online safety, it is crucial that you “do your own research” to find the right solution for you. However, browser-based password managers need more investigation and caution over standalone password managers.

Some convenience factors in browser-based systems do come at the cost of extra chinks in the armor, which you should be aware of.

In the constant battle between convenience and safety, we will always lean towards safety as more and more of our personal lives move online.

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Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist
Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist

Franklin Okeke is an author and tech journalist with over seven years of IT experience. Coming from a software development background, his writing spans cybersecurity, AI, cloud computing, IoT, and software development. In addition to pursuing a Master's degree in Cybersecurity & Human Factors from Bournemouth University, Franklin has two published books and four academic papers to his name. His writing has been featured in tech publications such as TechRepublic, The Register, Computing, TechInformed, Moonlock and other top technology publications. When he is not reading or writing, Franklin trains at a boxing gym and plays the piano.