The importance of password managers cannot be understated in 2023, especially if you have a growing list of online accounts. A password manager will not only keep you safe online, but it’ll also make it easier to create and store strong passwords. I recently signed up for a password manager and came across a host of options to choose from, including built-in password managers, which are featured in most web browsers.
Yes, you can also use your web browser’s built-in password manager to manage your login data. These passwords sync across all your devices as long as the browser works on that platform. But do these built-in password management tools work? And more importantly, is it really safe to hand over all your passwords to these browsers? Well, I tried using one for a few days to see how it works and whether it’s worth adopting over a dedicated password manager. Here’s what I found.
Browsers with built-in password managers
Most modern web browsers in 2023 have built-in password managers. It’s typically turned on by default, so your browser will ask you if you want to save your password every time you enter login details on a particular website. If you choose to save it, then your browser will record your password and keep it in the cloud to automatically fill in the credentials the next you visit the same page. So if you’ve been choosing to save your passwords, your browser already has a collection of your passwords in the cloud. Here are the ones I’ve tried, but most browsers have them.
Google Chrome is easily one of the most popular web browsers out there that works across different platforms. It also has a built-in password management tool that lets you create and save passwords for your online accounts. It uses AES 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption and personal information, so it’s just as secure as the other options mentioned here. In addition to generating and saving passwords, Chrome can also tell you whether your password is weak or when it’s compromised.
Apple’s Safari browser is an ideal choice for those using an Apple device. It can also generate store and autofill passwords for you, and all the information is kept in the iCloud Keychain as long as you use Apple devices with the same Apple account. It also uses end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption, meaning your login credentials are secured with a login key.
Firefox’s built-in password manager lets you generate and manage all your credentials. It became more prominent when Firefox ended support for Firefox Lockwise and turned it into a built-in feature in Firefox desktop and mobile browsers. Additionally, it can also alert you about the vulnerable passwords that are saved in your account.
The new Edge is based on the same open-source Chromium engine that powers Chrome, so it also has a feature-rich password manager that you can use to secure your accounts. It also uses AES-256 encryption to add more security to your passwords and lets you access them from within the settings page. The highlight feature is that Edge lets you autofill your password on Chrome with the Microsoft Autofill extension, which is pretty neat.
All these built-in tools, as you can see, are very similar. They can all generate and save passwords for your online accounts, so you don’t have to worry about managing them manually. I used Chrome and Safari the most for this particular experiment, but your experience will probably be the same regardless of your browser.
Pros and cons of using built-in password managers in browsers
If you’re planning to use the built-in password manager feature in your browser, then here are some pros and cons you should be aware of, starting with some obvious advantages.
One thing I like the most about using a built-in password manager is that they work out of the box as soon as you start using the browser itself. This particular tool, as I mentioned earlier, is turned on by default, so your browser will automatically ask whether you want to save your passwords. The fact that it simply works without forcing you to download any files or create new accounts makes it very convenient. Yes, you will have to log in to the account in your web browser, but you’ll do that regardless to access other things like your bookmarks and history.
Pro: Syncs data across devices
You can also have all your passwords ready to go on all your devices as long as you use the same web browser. Cross-platform support isn’t exclusive to browser-based password managers, but it’s a feature that saves you the hassle of downloading a separate app and setting it up across your devices. You will have to sign in to your account to save/access the saved passwords, but again, you’ll probably do that anyway.
Pro: Free to use
Most dedicated password-managing services out there can do a lot more than just manage your passwords. They’re often bundled with additional features or extras like a secure vault for your important files. Some password managers even offer a dark web monitoring feature to see if your passwords have ended up in the wrong hands. It’s often nice to have novelties, especially when they’re free of cost, but you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the built-in password managers in web browsers.
These browser-based password managers can only generate, store, and autofill your passwords in login forms. Some won’t let you import or export your passwords or even customize any settings since they’re ready to go the moment you open your browser, which you can do with dedicated password managers. I love using simple and no-frills services that work as advertised, but this comes down to a personal preference. If you want more features and the flexibility to customize different settings, these browser-based password managers will leave you wanting more.
Con: Passwords are limited to browsers only
One of the obvious limitations of built-in password managers is that your passwords are limited to browsers only. You can only use them to log in to the online accounts via the browser in which your passwords are saved. This means you can’t use it to log in to the apps installed on the same device. So if you want to log into, say, your Twitter account via the app, you have to copy your password and username and paste them in.
That’s an additional step that can be avoided by using a dedicated password manager like Bitwarden, which have dedicated applications to import and fill in the passwords for you. It also means your login credentials are restricted to the browser in which your passwords are saved, which brings me to my next point.
Con: Difficult to switch browsers
Not being able to access the saved passwords outside the browser they’re stored in also means you can’t immediately switch to a different web browser. You have to take care of your password before switching, especially if you’ve used the browser to generate unique and strong passwords for you. Most major browsers let you export your password easily, but that’s an additional step that you can — once again — avoid by using a dedicated password managing service that works across different browsers and apps.
In the case of Bitwarden, for instance, I can just install an extension for the browser I am using and have all my passwords ready for use. It works similarly for a lot of other password managers too, and it’s a lot easier than exporting and importing your passwords each time you switch or use a new one.
Con: No easy or secure sharing options
Standalone password managers, including free ones like Bitwarden or Zoho Vault allow you to easily share your passwords with others you trust. Many of them even have family tiers, which offer shared folders that all members can access. This is something the built-in password managers in browsers can’t do. Your only option here would be manually exporting or copying them for sharing.
Should you use a browser’s built-in password manager?
Having used both browser-based and full-fledged password managers, it’s safe for me to say that I am leaning more toward using a proper tool as opposed to relying on my browser. The browser-based password manager may not seem to have a long list of disadvantages, but the existing factors are worth considering when it comes to day-to-day usage. Not being able to access my passwords on apps outside the browser, for instance, is a huge deal-breaker for me. Similarly, I also want to be able to easily share my passwords with some of my friends and family members, instead of having to deal with a manual process.
Your mileage, however, may vary, especially if you’re a casual user. If your usage is limited to casual web browsing, or if you only want to save passwords for services you access only on web browsers, then you can consider these browser-based password managers. But else everyone should just subscribe to one of the dedicated services to manage their passwords. I say that because even the free password managers offer plenty of features to make your lives a lot easier.
I’d like to know your thoughts on the built-in password managers that ship with web browsers. Do you actively use or plan on using one? Let me know in the comments below!