How to Share Passwords Safely
It's perfectly safe and easy to share your passwords, as long as you use the right tools for the job.
"Never share your passwords!" In general, that's good advice, but it's not practical for every situation. A lot of people need to share username and password combinations with trusted family members, friends, and coworkers. If you're going to share passwords, however, you need a good reason and the right tools to do it safely.
Why Would You Share Your Passwords?
Why would you share your login credentials with someone?
One common reason is when family members share an account that doesn't offer multiple logins. Utility bills, for example, might be managed by more than one person. Or you might have an online storage space for family documents, and you want your adult children to be able to log in and grab their immunization forms themselves without having to hassle you.
Another reason is business. Employees sometimes use one login for many people, like a social media account. If you run a small business and aren't using a social media management tool, you might want to grant access to the company Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts to multiple people.
And what about emergencies? If something happens that leaves you unable to log into an account (coma, death, incarceration—who knows what could happen?), would you be able to share your passwords with someone else to take over or cancel the account easily?
For any of these situations and others, you can safely and securely share passwords with people you trust.
What is a Password Manager?
Here's a short video from CyberNews with a good explanation of what a password manager is.
User Friendly can help set you up and train you on how to use one, click HERE to schedule!
How to Share Passwords With a Password Manager
The best way to manage your passwords, and that includes managing the sharing of passwords, is with a password manager. Is that not just the most obvious thing you've ever heard?
Password managers are programs, some of them free, that you install on your devices so that they can log you into online accounts automatically. To do that, they store your username and password combinations for all your accounts securely. They also help you generate unique passwords for all of your accounts.
The best password managers also include a feature that lets you share a username and password with someone else. Often you have to have a paid account to get this feature.
Some password managers let you share a login without the recipient being able to see the password. In other words, the recipient gets permission to have the password manager log them in automatically to one of your accounts, but they never actually know the password. Usually, you can revoke access as well.
'Til Death Do You Part
What about preparing your accounts to be passed on after you die or if you become incapacitated? It's always a good idea to legally appoint someone to have power of attorney for you, which would eventually let them access your accounts, but there would be a long delay of paperwork, emails, and phone calls. There's an easier option.
Digital Legacy Options in Password Managers
Some password managers also have an option for setting an emergency contact or someone to inherit all or some of your passwords if your account becomes inactive. We at PCMag refer to this feature as "digital legacy," and all of our Editors' Choice award winners among password managers have it. It's important to know that this feature is optional. You don't have to set it up if you don't want to. Let's look at two of them to see how they work.
If you use Keeper, the feature is called Manage Account Emergency Access. It lets you add up to five email addresses as emergency contacts who will be alerted and given instructions for accessing your account after a seven-day waiting period of inactivity on your part.
1Password has an Emergency Kit(Opens in a new window), which includes all the information someone would need to log into your account. You can print it or download a copy and store it somewhere safe for your appointed person to use in the event of your death. This option is perhaps the most low tech. You have to trust that the person won't access your accounts prior to your demise.
Google Inactive Account Manager
Google has a feature called Inactive Account Manager. When you enable it, you name a person to inherit your Google account or the parts of your Google account that you assign. When you set up the Inactive Account Manager, you pick a length of time that your account must be inactive before that delegation occurs. For example, you can set it up so that if you have had no activity in your Google account for three months, Google automatically notifies your partner and grants them the login information to your Gmail. Your partner could then do password resets on any account that is tied to your Gmail address.
Your partner might still bump into some hurdles, such as needing multi-factor authentication, but in many cases, they should be able to access the account and cancel it after your death.
The Inactive Account Manager is located in Google's account settings, and it has some deeper settings and selections that I encourage you to explore.
Good to know: Google sends you an automated message every few months reminding you that you have opted into the Inactive Account Manager service. That way, you don't forget. And if you ever need to change your dedicated person, these reminders may help you remember to do that, too.
Quick and Dirty Password Sharing
Let's say that you're really in a bind and have to give someone your username and password right now. You never set up proper password sharing and you're in a panic. Screw your head back on for a minute and deploy an ounce of common sense before you spill your password beans.
Note that the method I'm about to describe is not ideal. Really, don't use it if you don't have to.
If you absolutely must share a login in an insecure way, the best thing you can do is make it difficult for bad actors to get a hold of all the information. So break it up in multiple places.
For example, if you need to give your partner some login credentials, you might discuss on the phone what account they need. Then you could send your username via email. And lastly, send the password via a third method, like through a secure messenger app such as Signal. If the account uses a multi-factor authentication code (which you should enable wherever possible), you can deliver that via another method or over the phone.
Again, sharing a login this way is not ideal. In fact, it's terrible. And you should only use it as a last resort. Is it better than putting all the information into a single text message or email and sending it that way? Yes, marginally. But you're much better off using a password manager to share your passwords securely.