App type: Browser plug-in, password manager
Publisher:  LastPass
Price: Free (Premium version is $12 per year)

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I've installed Windows 7 several hundred times in the past couple of years, I bet, and each time I follow the same simple process: Install the OS. Install the Windows Updates, rebooting as required. Install Windows Live Essentials. Install Office. Install Windows Updates again. And then I install the latest version of each of the major browsers: IE, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari. And then I install LastPass.

LastPass is, perhaps, the single greatest piece of third party software I install on my PCs. I first recommended it via the Windows Weekly podcast back in 2008, and I've been using and recommending it ever since. And because it works with all major browsers, and is free, it's a no-brainer for any and all Windows users. If you're interested in remaining safe online, and in keeping your personal data personal, LastPass is the answer you've been looking for.

OK, but what is it? At its heart, LastPass is a password manager. But it's so much more than that. But even taken as a simple password manager, LastPass exceeds the password management solutions of the past by doing one simple thing: Keeping your master password listed store, in encrypted form, in a cloud-based vault, so that you can access it from anywhere. This way, when a PC is lost, stolen, or rendered unusable by a hardware glitch, you don't lose anything.

Getting your passwords into the cloud also allows you to very easily connect any modern web browser, via a sophisticated browser plug-in, to that database of passwords. So when you browse to your favorite eCommerce site, bank, or other password protected web site, the LastPass plug-in simply looks up your account information and supplies it, seamlessly passing you through to the protected content.

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LastPass is implemented as a browser plug-in.


But LastPass isn't just about storing and retrieving passwords. It can also create complex passwords of any type on the fly, and you can use these passwords to ensure that each of the sites to which you logon have a unique password. This is something too few of us do, but since you'll be managing these passwords via a single interface with a single master password, now you can continue using a single password as before, but with the security of knowing that each site, in fact, does have a unique password. So if one of those sites is hacked someday, hackers won't have your logon information for other sites too.

And LastPass does more than just passwords. It can also fill out forms, using one or more profiles that you create. So when you hit a lengthy address form on an eCommerce site, you can tell LastPass to auto-fill it. These forms include a wide variety of data, and can include credit card information as well, if you'd like. Remember: The data in LastPass is encrypted, so this is as safe as your master password.

LastPass also offers a Premium version, which costs $12 per year. This offering provides additional features like mobile access (though the sophistication of iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Firefox Mobile, and other device-based browsers makes this a hit or miss proposition), Yubikey support (for multifactor authentication), and no ads.

Whichever you choose, LastPass is the right solution for a very serious problem, and combined with a logon on your PC or device, you can auto-start (and auto-logon with) LastPass in your browsers safely. This is a solution I use regularly and recommend highly. You cannot go wrong with LastPass.