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Review: LastPass for Mac protects your passwords but needs polish

Glenn Fleishman | Feb. 27, 2015
The gold standard for password vaults on the Mac is 1Password. Now in its fifth major release, 1Password has matured along with its userbase. One of its most stalwart longtime competitors, LastPass, has had an iOS version, but OS X customers have had to work through browser plug-ins or its website, putting it at a disadvantage.

The gold standard for password vaults on the Mac is 1Password. Now in its fifth major release, 1Password has matured along with its userbase. One of its most stalwart longtime competitors, LastPass, has had an iOS version, but OS X customers have had to work through browser plug-ins or its website, putting it at a disadvantage.

The release of the free LastPass for Mac puts the two popular secrets-protection packages head to head. And LastPass comes out reasonably well in aspects of the comparison: the two apps carve out different spaces, which will vary in importance by users' specific security preferences and access needs. But in most respects, LastPass feels unfinished and clunky — a work in progress that works, but needs more work. The Mac version is free. A $12-per-year subscription adds mobile app synchronization, second-factor login support, and a family-based secure password sharing option.

Access your passwords anywhere

The central theme of LastPass is accessibility everywhere: your passwords are stored in a local vault on your Mac (or other platforms) and always synced with LastPass's storehouse. This has the advantage that you can log into the LastPass website to access passwords anywhere, and the disadvantage that anyone with your credentials can log into the LastPass website to access your passwords anywhere.

Having direct access with a login increases the "risk surface," although you can mitigate that with a premium subscription by using one of several two-factor authentication methods it supports, including Yubikey (a USB key generator) and Google Authenticator, to prevent logins without possession of or access to a unique second verification code or device. (1Password syncs via Dropbox and iCloud Drive, but doesn't allow access to its encrypted vaults without syncing to a local copy and using its software.)

The new Mac app feels more like a better extension of the plug-ins than a fully freestanding app, but it gets the job done. The Mac app is primarily the Vault window, a locally synchronized and updated version of the data stored in your LastPass web account. The Vault offers access to site logins, secure notes, and "form fills," the company's term for identities that can contain credit-card information, an address, and more. But you can't generate passwords on their own in the Vault window, even though you can in the browser plug-ins.

The site login seems quite primitive compared to 1Password, only storing a username and password, where 1Password can capture all form elements and store previously used passwords, among other features. The FormFill feature puts different categories of items in a single profile, so to define multiple credit cards, you have to create a profile for each, and there's no duplicate option to avoid re-entering address and other personal data.

 

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