How to use Firefox's Master Password feature

Saving browser passwords isn't an ideal security practice, but if you're going to do it anyway, the Firefox Master Password feature can help keep you safe.

Password managers: Should you use one?

Even in a world where a misstep in security could cause data loss, identity theft, and more, people are still lazy about protecting their information. One way this is revealed is saved passwords within browsers. We all do it. Why? Because we don't want to have to remember or type those complicated passwords every time we have to log into a site or service.

But that means anyone who has access to your browser has access to those sites. What do you do if you still feel the need to have your browser save those passwords? If Firefox is your browser of choice, you can make use of the Master Password feature. With this in play, none of your saved passwords are accessible without first entering that cache-locking password.

Before I show you how to set up this feature, I want to say this: Saving passwords is never really a good idea. In an ideal world, you would not allow your browser to save your passwords. Instead, your passwords would be too complicated to put to memory and you would use a password manager.

Unfortunately, we know that very few will heed that advice. Users will allow their browsers to save passwords. To that end, I like to instruct people to make use of Firefox's Master Password. The tool is available for both the desktop and mobile versions of the browser (and works the same on each).

SEE: Password Management Policy (Tech Pro Research)

What Master Password does

The easiest way to think about the Firefox Master Password is that it serves as a password vault for your Firefox-stored passwords. If you don't properly authenticate against the Master Password, you won't gain access to your saved passwords. With that in place, those saved passwords are a bit more secure. Even so, do not lean on the Master Password so much that you are led to believe you can then use simple passwords for those sites and services you use. In fact, this should aid you in setting even stronger passwords for your online accounts. Considering you won't have to remember them, you can create very strong passwords, have Firefox remember then, and then set a Master Password.

Even so, this is, in no way, an ideal solution. You've been warned.

How it works on the desktop

Setting up the Master Password is very simple. First let's set it for the desktop version of the browser. Here's how:

  1. Open Firefox
  2. Click on the Menu button
  3. Click Preferences
  4. Go to the Security tab
  5. Click the checkbox for Use a master password (Figure A)
  6. When prompted, enter and reenter a master password
  7. Click OK to save

Figure A

Figure A

Enabling your Firefox Master Password.

Your passwords are (relatively) safe behind your Master Password. Do note, every time you have Firefox save a new password, you will be prompted to enter that Master Password.

SEE: How to set up two-factor authentication for your favorite platforms and services (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A word on the acceptable passwords

An acceptable Master Password must contain the following:

  • At least one capital letter.
  • One or more digits.
  • At least one non-alphanumeric character (such as @ # $ % ^ & ( ) *)

I highly suggest making this Master Password as complicated as you can.

How it works on your mobile device

The idea is very much the same on the mobile device. The steps are also very similar:

  1. Open Firefox
  2. Tap on the menu button
  3. Tap Settings
  4. Tap Privacy
  5. Tap to enable Use master password (Figure B)
  6. Enter and confirm your master password
  7. Tap OK

Figure B

Figure B

Setting the Firefox Master Password on Android.

The acceptable password requirements apply to the mobile version, same as the desktop version.

Disable or changing the password

If you have a need to disable the Master Password, all you have to go is go back to the setting, uncheck the box, and type your Master Password. Should you want to change the Master Password (which is probably a good thing to do on a regular basis), go back to the setting and click (or tap) the button for Change Master Password. You'll be prompted to enter the current password and then type and verify the new password (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Changing your Master Password.

Stay safe out there

When thinking about passwords and being hacked, your thought process should shift to a "when not if" scenario. With that in mind, you'll do everything you can to stay safe. If you absolutely must have your Firefox browser save your password, at least make use of the Master Password feature.

Also see

Image: Jack Wallen

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....