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Bitwarden is a free, secure, and cross-platform password manager that everyone should try

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Bitwarden
  • Bitwarden is a password manager offering a nearly full-featured solution for free. It's price allows anyone to get started, but it has the depth for anyone to grow into it beyond the free trial.
  • While Bitwarden doesn't come with all the features of a subscription password manager, it doesn't limit use across it's desktop app, browser extensions, iOS, and Android apps.
  • The simplistic design of its interface is pleasing and is polished to match competitors like LastPass for easy use.
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Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Most password managers have transitioned to paid, annual subscriptions which can limit who uses one. We found that Bitwarden is one of the best free options to compete against all the paid versions.

Before we get too far into the review, you're probably wondering, is Bitwarden safe and secure? The app is open source, meaning the source code used to build it is available for anyone to look at and inspect. While most people won't inspect it themselves, being open source allows security researchers access. It was last audited in July 2020, and the report can be seen on its website.

Unless you have a photographic memory, it's much safer to use a password manager to store your hundreds of unique passwords in a secure and encrypted vault. It can take a little time to become comfortable using a password manager, which makes Bitwarden's free price even more attractive.

Beyond storing passwords, most password managers can keep credit card numbers, ID card information, and personal information secure and readily available. A password manager can also allow you to plan for the future and allow select loved ones to access your login information in an emergency situation.

The app is definitely a little bare bones, especially compared to other password managers, but it offers plenty of features to keep it useful and proactively helpful. By default, it supports vaults, or areas, for logins, cards, identity, and secure notes. You can add additional folders if you have areas you'd like to organize protected items into.

In reviewing Bitwarden, I used it as my primary manager for several weeks. I have also been reviewing apps and tech hardware for the last seven years for several major technology publications. There were of course a few annoyances, but overall Bitwarden performs really well and does its job without getting in the way.

Bitwarden specifications

Free:

  • Access & Install All Bitwarden Apps
  • Sync All of Your Devices
  • Store Unlimited Items
  • Logins, Notes, Cards, & Identities
  • Secure Password Generator
  • Two-step Login - 2FA

Premium ($10/year):

  • Storage - 1 GB
  • Vault Health Reports
  • TOTP Authenticator Storage & Generator

Family Premium ($12/year)

  • 5 users
  • Unlimited collections and shared items

Features and design

The design and layout of the desktop app resembles others, like LastPass, so getting started isn't complicated, but it can be limiting. For example, if you do want to import, you need to visit Bitwarden's website rather than doing so from its apps. (Exporting data can be done from its desktop or mobile apps.) This is part of Bitwarden's additional appeal: that it has apps for Android and iOS, Windows, and Mac

By default the desktop app has a clean organizational structure on the left side and can sort items by logins, cards, identities, and secure notes. You can also view just items you've marked as favorites or have everything shown at once. Beyond the pre-assigned groups and organization, you can create your own folders to further group items in your own way.

This sorting is present on the iOS mobile app and presented front and center in the first tab, "My Vault." All the folders are editable on mobile (done inside the settings area) and then those changes will sync back to the desktop app, if you're using it.

The mobile and desktop apps largely align on design and functionality. One disappointment initially in testing was that while the iOS app includes support for unlocking with FaceID, the desktop app does not support Apple's Touch ID fingerprint reader for biometric unlock. Luckily, as of July 2020, Bitwarden's Mac app began supporting the fingerprint sensor available on some Macs. More good news, Bitwarden will soon support the Windows Hello face unlock feature in Windows 10. It was a bit annoying to constantly need to enter the master password or pin, despite having the settings set to only lock on computer sleep.

Still, that little annoyance is greatly overshadowed by the app allowing unlimited stored passwords and other notes. Syncing worked flawlessly for me using its servers — versus creating my own local vault.

While all the basic functionality and plenty of customizable options are included for free, there are a couple of tasks that require the premium version. For example, if you want to check the health of your passwords to see if they've been compromised or several other reports relating to your passwords used across the web, you'll need to upgrade to the premium version. The Data Breach Report, however, is available for free to see if a reported breach contains your information.

The premium version runs $10 for a year; so getting reports, along with 1GB of secure, encrypted storage for images or other identity information could be well worth the low fee.

Premium for a family of five makes the cost go up to just $12 for a year, or $1 a month.

While testing, I found its Safari extension is to be sufficient and responsive. It performs just as well for detecting forms to fill in, and it has a customizable password generator built right in. On mobile, the auto-fill worked better than expected and was close to the native experience Apple provides with its own password-saving feature.

Security

Bitwarden Graphic

It's only natural to be skeptical of a free application that wants to hold all the keys to sites you visit all over the internet. That's a fair concern. For starters, it uses end-to-end AES-256 bit encryption, salted hashing, and PBKDF2 SHA-256 — all the latest security protocols.

The biggest way Bitwarden deals with security concerns is by open sourcing the software for security researchers and third parties to perform regular audits on the software. You can check it out on GitHub too, if you know what you're looking for. The latest audit is from July and can be found with past ones on its website.

One of the other nice additions of Bitwarden for advanced users is that you can self-host your password vault if you would like that extra layer of control. By default your data is synced using Bitwarden's own website which provides web access.

If you just want to use its software without its website or syncing mechanisms, that's totally fine. You'll still likely need to login to import data, but beyond that you should retain control over all your data.

The bottom line

Ultimately, there's very little to lose in trying Bitwarden to see if it works for you — only the loss of a little time it takes to download the app and import your data. If you don't have a preferred password manager or have never used one, you need to download this one now.

What are your alternatives?

We really like LastPass because it allows free users to upgrade on their own terms versus being pushed to upgrade by harsh limits. Compared to most other password managers, it's our overall best pick.

Dashlane is a polished and respectable option, but is quite pricey compared to even the gold-standard of LastPass. It's very well designed and might provide some interesting options, but Dashlane doesn't out-do others in any significant way to justify its high price.

1Password has a free trial, but it doesn't offer any sort of free tier to ease into. Still, if you are up for paying for this type of app right from the start, you probably won't be disappointed with 1Password in many, if any regards.

Pros: Free without limits, supported on all major platforms, easy-to-use, low cost premium features

Cons: No password security checks for free

Read the original article on Business Insider


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