February 18, 2021

Password manager comparison: LastPass vs. Bitwarden

The March 16, 2021 severe change to LastPass Free (see here) shakes up the password manager choices a bit.

Both LastPass and Bitwarden have multiple tiers, and, of course, the functionality doesn't exactly line up between the similarly-named tiers.  The table below should help you decide which tier of which password manager meets your needs.   I haven't shown LastPass Free because the new limitation make the Free tier essentially unusable for the vast majority of users.

Unless you badly want a free service and think you'll stay there a long time, I suggest looking only at the Premium and Family(ies) tiers.  The main deciding factor between the two Premium tiers is probably the differences in the sharing features.


Feature/Area

LastPass Premium

LastPass Families

Bitwarden Free

Bitwarden Premium

Bitwarden Family

Cost

USD $36

USD $48

$0

USD $10

USD $40

Ease of use

Good

Not as good

Not as good

File attachments

1 GB

0 GB

1 GB

Sharing

Individual items: Unlimited sharing with any number of users

Folders: 1, with any number of users

Individual items: Unlimited sharing with any number of users

Folders: 1, with any numbers of users; unlimited within family

Folders: 1, with only 1 other user

Folders: 1, with only 1 other user

Folders: unlimited within family

Vault security check-up

Yes

No

Yes

2FA for itself

Yes

Yes

Yes

Authenticator feature

Yes

No

No

Yes

Emergency Access

Yes

No

Yes

Account recovery

Powerful (e.g., locally-stored OTPs)

Weaker

Weaker

Replacement for LastPass Free password manager

Starting March 16, LastPass's Free plan password manager will be essentially unusable; see here for more details.  Only users that don't have a computer (i.e., have only phones and/or tablets) will find this new limitation of LastPass Free acceptable; everyone else will need to move to something else.

I have recommended LastPass Free for years but that's not going to work now.  If you're looking for a free replacement for LastPass Free, and you care about security and privacy, Bitwarden Free looks like the best bet.  If you search you'll find a huge number of glowing reviews on the web.  It's not too hard to export your vault from LastPass and import it to Bitwarden.

However, if you're happy with LastPass, consider staying with it and upgrading to LastPass Premium, for USD $36 a year.  In addition to more powerful sharing, 1 GB of file storage (instead of 50 MB), more 2FA options, and tech support, you'll get the feature that I recommend everyone make use of: Emergency Access.

Bitwarden Premium, USD $10/year, also has an Emergency Access feature.

It doesn't matter which you use -- LastPass or Bitwarden or something else -- but it's essential that you use a password manager, and use it properly.  See my blog post on this

---

Update 2021-03-16: If you're part of a family or have a small group of like-minded friends, the LastPass Families or Bitwarden Families plans can save you a lot of money.

February 15, 2021

Winter hiking equipment

If you're going to be hiking in the winter -- in a place with snow like British Columbia -- you really need good traction devices.  For general-purpose hiking, microspikes are definitely the way to go.

You can't go wrong with these two models, both of while I use all the time:

1. Hillsound Trail Crampon

https://www.hillsound.ca/collections/traction-devices/products/trail-crampon

REI has them but also check out https://www.google.com/shopping

2. Kahtoola MICROspikes Footwear Traction

https://kahtoola.com/product/microspikes/

MEC has them

The Hillsound have 1/2" spikes while the Kahtoola have 3/8" spikes.  If I had to pick one, it would be the Hillsound.

In the Okanagan winter hiking is usually on a mixture of snow, ice, and dirt and rocks.  I happily used Yaktrax Pro in Vancouver for years but as I soon as I moved to the Okanagan they failed, because the rubber was quickly ground down by the dirt and rocks.  In retrospect, microspikes would have been better than Yaktrax in Vancouver too.

February 3, 2021

Local backup for professionals and organizations

My previous post talked about backup in general and cloud backup in particular.  I promised that my next post would finish by covering local backup.  Here it is.

First, the "why".  Recall that my previous post recommended you start by backing up your data files to the cloud.  Assuming that you're doing this, why would you also want to back up locally, that is to an external drive of some kind in the same room or building as your computer?

There are several excellent reasons:

  1. You need a second backup because one is not enough.  As mentioned in my previous post, a key tenet of information security is defense in depth. When applied to backup, this means having at least two backups of your data, in case something goes wrong with one of them.  You should start with a cloud backup, so you second backup should be a local backup.
  2. With a local backup you have the flexibility to set your own retention policy.  Your cloud backup may keep deleted files and old file versions for, say, only six months or a year, but with a local backup you can easily keep them for several years or even forever if you have a large enough external drive.
  3. Your local backup could be an external drive sitting by your desk, but you have other options too.  You could use a small portable drive or a flash drive and store it most of the time in your fire safe, or you could have two drives and swap them weekly or monthly between being attached to your computer and being in the fire safe, hidden in your home, or in a safety deposit box.  The sky's the limit on the possibilities.
  4. A very secure cloud backup is at least $100 a month -- every month, forever -- but a nice external drive can be purchased for $200 and will last for many years.  You can't dispense entirely with the cloud backup, but if you're price conscious you can use a less expensive (and less secure) cloud backup if you also have a local backup that you take care of well.
  5. If you need to restore a lot of data from your backup – perhaps your entire computer's worth – a local restore will likely be a lot faster than a cloud restore.  And a large cloud restore might use up enough of your monthly ISP data budget to cost you money, whereas a local restore is always going to be free.
  6. Finally, backing up locally offers a type of backup that is usually not done for a cloud backup: a system image backup.  A data backup, or files backup, includes just a user's files, but a system image backup is a backup of a computer's entire main drive, including the user's files, application software and settings, and the operating system.  Due to its size, it's usually not practical to transfer a system image backup to the cloud – but it's very easy to store it on a local drive.  Having a system image backup is not essential, but it's a much faster way to recover from a major computer failure.  Without a system image backup, recovery means reinstalling the OS and all applications, configuring (including hardening) the OS, configuring all applications, and restoring the user's data; whereas with a system image backup, it's a single restore operation that does everything in one step.

Encryption

In my previous post I listed three backup-specific requirements: sufficient confidentiality, sufficiently long retention, and support for point-in-time restore.  These of course apply to local backups too, and you may want to reread that part of my previous post before continuing on here.  Local backup software typically provides sufficient retention and a point-in-time restore, but confidentiality needs more discussion.

For a local backup, confidentiality means encrypting the external drive, and this can be done by the backup software and/or the operating system.  All backup software provides encryption, but encryption in the backup software that comes with many backup drives may not be sufficiently well implemented and secure.  If your computer's OS has the ability to encrypt external drives, use it; in this case you don't need to use the encryption feature of the backup software.  

If your OS can't encrypt external drives, you're probably on Windows 10 Home, in which case your computer's main drive is not encrypted either.  This is a bad situation and you should upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, which will give you the BitLocker feature.  BitLocker gives you the ability to encrypt not only your computer's main drive but also any external drive, such as the one you're going to use for backup.  

If for some reason you decide not to use the OS to encrypt your backup drive, you have four choices:

  1. don't encrypt the backup drive – not a good idea unless the data is not sensitive
  2. use the encryption built into the backup software that came with your backup drive – easy but not recommended, as discussed above
  3. use the encryption built into third-party backup software – a good choice, see below
  4. use quality third-party encryption software like VeraCrypt to encrypt the backup drive – a great choice

Whether you're using the OS, third-party software, or your backup software to encrypt the drive, make sure you store the encryption password in your password manager

Backup software

What backup software to use?  Let's talk about data backup first.  You can use the backup feature built into your computer's OS or you can use third-party software.  Here are some good choices:

  • Windows 10 File History – Don't use the older "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" feature
  • macOS Time Machine – If you have a Mac
  • CrashPlan – It's a (great) cloud backup service, but it also allows backup up to a local drive.
  • Macrium Reflect Home Edition – It's primarily (great) system image backup software, but it also supports backing up just data files.
  • SyncBackSE – It's pure backup software that works very nicely.  You need the SE version (not the Free version) in order to get the critical Versioning feature.

CrashPlan, Reflect, and SyncBackSE will all do a good job of encrypting your backup, if you so configure them.

You could also use the backup software, if any, that comes with your external drive to perform your backup.  It's generally best, though, as discussed above, if you don't use the software's encryption capabilities.

For system image backup, here are some good choices:

  • On Windows, there is no good system image backup feature built in. (Don't use "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)": it's old and crotchety and even Microsoft recommends using third-party system image backup software instead.  Definitely don't try it if you use BitLocker.)
  • macOS Time Machine – If you have a Mac
  • Macrium Reflect Home Edition – Very nice software that supports BitLocker well
  • Acronis True Image – People seem to like it, but I recommend you stay away from it if you use BitLocker.

Backup drives

Finally, we get to the bottom level of the stack: the backup drive hardware.  You have many choices, including desktop backup drives, portable backup drives, and flash drives.  Desktop and portable drives used to always be hard disk drives (HDDs) but solid-state drives (SSDs) are now starting to appear at reasonable prices.  Flash drives, which are essentially small and slow SSDs, are now available for reasonable prices up to 512 GB, and would be useful if you want to hide your backup drive.

You should obviously buy a drive that has an interface that your computer supports.  USB is the most common, but pay attention to the physical connector and the USB version number.

Speed is not that important for a backup drive but size does matter.  You can never have enough backup storage, and right now the sweet spot seems to be about 8 TB for HDDs, which are currently the best choice for most people.

WD (Western Digital) and Seagate are respected brand names in HDDs.

Parting words

As mentioned above you absolutely should have more than one backup because things always go wrong.  My last post suggested that you add backups in this order: (1) a cloud backup, (2) a local backup, (3) a second cloud backup, and (4) a second local backup.  How far down the list you go depends on how important your data is and how paranoid you are.

A final recommendation: make sure you occasionally do a test restore of all your backups, both local and cloud.  Otherwise you might discover – just when you need it the most -- that your fail-safe has failed and can't be restored from.