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Pandemic ushers in the next big wave of IT outsourcing

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Who knew when the pandemic first hit that it would perhaps be the greatest opportunity — and catalyst — for IT services companies.

At the time, in March 2020, it was code bright red. IT services employees were prohibited from going into the office in an industry that has long defined productivity through physical face time.

For these companies, existing deals faced dire consequences if they were not catered to. To make things worse, many clients such as banks, insurance outfits, utilities, and e-commerce sites among others had to run their operations through an unprecedented surge of client activity. They also had to do it through a workforce that was sitting at home without the hardware or bandwidth.

And yet, these companies have endured and triumphed. The amount of deal wins has been unprecedented. The numbers — revenue, net profit, revenue growth — have almost uniformly been, not just good, but record-breaking.

Every outsourcing wave in history has been accompanied by an acute crisis along with an outsized opportunity. In the first wave, it was the bogey of Y2K that terrified companies into thinking the world would stop dead in its tracks when computer clocks, engineered with only the twentieth century in mind, entered the 21st century. 

The Y2K non-problem fired up the rockets for Indian IT by introducing the opportunity of using cheap labour to architect applications and taking care of a company’s tech infrastructure remotely. 

Then came the global financial crisis in 2008 and glimmers of a new dawn began to appear on the horizon. This new dawn shined a light on the urgency of the incoming digital age and the need to rapidly buy into it by ditching the old labour arbitrage business for a world that necessitated more complex digital solutions using the cloud, AI, machine learning, and big data. 

These technologies became the new gospel. And yet, despite that evangelism, most IT services companies failed to embrace the digital with an urgency that was crucially needed. The flow of easy money from the old business still continued, albeit at a dwindling rate. Both companies and IT providers were reluctant to jump ship, and the new world of digital solutions was still too unfamiliar to be embraced wholeheartedly.

The only company that truly blazed a trail here was Accenture with its ravenous appetite for acquisitions and hunger for digital deals.

Now, virtually overnight, with everyone conducting most of their primary affairs via online banking, shopping, and entertainment — at home — many businesses have had to completely overhaul the way they do business. Consumers needed to be appeased in ways not done before, and websites and business solutions as a whole had to be intensely more agile than they had ever been.

A survey by HFS and Infosys consequently showed that, today, deep in the midst of the pandemic, over 60% of polled companies intend to speed up their digital transformation while 70% have plans to redo their products and services to drive greater customer value.

This means plunging money and architecting solutions in exactly those spaces that IT services companies and their clients have historically dragged their heels on — things like cloud, cybersecurity, automation, AI — and re-skilling their employees and putting more resources into a consulting approach.

Accenture, true to form, rocked the IT landscape when it blazed out of the gates with a 25% jump in pandemic-inspired new deals compared to last year between September and November. This included 16 clients with over $100 million in bookings.

The biggest comeback story belongs to Infosys, which racked up huge deal wins — $7.13 billion for the December quarter alone, its highest ever. Digital comprised a staggering 50% plus of the company’s revenues, which is growth at a 31.3% clip.

A prized contract worth $3.2 billion that it won was with Daimler, where Infosys now has a mandate to completely remake the auto company’s entire IT operations and infrastructure landscape across workplace services.

Even the recently beleaguered Wipro, which has been having trouble firing on all cylinders in the digital era, recently snagged a mega-deal with Metro AG that will bring in at least $700 million over five years. This comes alongside its new CEO Thierry Delaporte, who looks destined to power the once-stagnant company to greater heights.

In fact, as TechCircle notes, both Wipro and Infosys — TCS too — have successfully wooed European companies. TCS with Prudential Financial and Deutsche Bank, Infosys with German carmaker Daimler, and Wipro with German wholesaler Metro. In November, TCS acquired Postbank Systems AG from Deutsche Bank in a deal that involved the takeover of 1,500 employees based in Germany.

“Germany is where the recent ‘mega-deals’ have taken place (in Europe) because most large German firms have never outsourced at scale before, and the current market made it appealing for the likes of Infosys, TCS and Wipro to secure a foothold in the lucrative German market,” said Phil Fersht, CEO, HfS Research. A Euro-centric shift is one of the hallmarks of a new, evolving strategy.

Of course, none of the impressive performance metrics for the quarter ending December 2020 would have been possible without some unanticipated but hugely welcome cost savings in office rent, maintenance, electricity, land acquisitions, travel, and a whole host of things that were once de rigeur.

Most companies have stated that the working-from-anywhere model will be largely here to stay and may even inspire additional new ways of doing business.

Still, these will soon just be icing on the cake as the current pandemic environment becomes status quo. 

In order to keep the engines going with the hopes of attaining greater heights, these outfits will have to truly and aggressively chase the new world. One where, as HFS’s Phil Fersht wrote in his blog, you offer genuinely “transformative services that run your borderless, work-from-anywhere business operations in the cloud, dependent on deep skills in data science, process design, automation, and most importantly, business logic and training people to become digitally-fluent.”

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/pandemic-ushers-in-the-next-big-wave-of-it-outsourcing/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Fastest VPN in 2021: How we rated the top services

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Choosing a VPN can be a little bit of a chore. First, you’re going to need to research and figure out which VPN is going to work for you. Then you’re going to want to go through a trial run. But then the real test comes, you need to see how fast that trial goes with your internet once the VPN is set up to your machine and your network. Beth Mauder sits down with David Gewirtz to talk about the research and legwork David has done to come up with the fastest VPN on the market.

Watch my conversation with Gewirtz above, or read a few of the highlights below.


Beth Mauder: Why don’t you go ahead and walk us through what those tests look like?

David Gewirtz: So there’s a variety of ways to figure this thing out, but remember that everybody’s VPN is going to be a little different because you’re in a different location. You’re on the East Coast, for example, I’m on the West Coast. People are in different countries and they’re usually using VPNs to move them to yet other countries. So your performance is going to be a little different.

From my set of tests, and I tested five VPNs over the course of about two weeks, I started with a raw Windows install, so that everything was consistent across each individual test. And then for each install, what I would do is do tests to a variety of countries, and when possible, repeat the vendor, the ISP in each of those countries. So I tried India, and Sweden, and Taiwan, and Russia, and either Australia or New Zealand, and tried to get out to those countries for each of the VPNs I tested. And then tested upload speed, download speed, and latency and ping time.

I also tested how long it takes to establish the connection because it turns out that some of them take quite a bit longer to connect to the VPN than others. And that can get annoying, especially if you’re connecting on and off in different places. So that was the sum total of the test. So what I did is I repeated them three times for each test, and then I averaged the results to try to get some level of consistency. And it’s a pretty rote process. You just set it up and you run the tests and you record the numbers and put them together into, in my case, a big spreadsheet, which then got turned into charts, which were a lot more fun.

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Beth Mauder: David, after all of your testing, what were some of the fastest VPNs you can currently get?

David Gewirtz: So I was very surprised. The fastest VPN for download that I found was a product called Hotspot Shield. And what surprised me about Hotspot Shield is they were very hypey in their promotion. They were the kind of company that you didn’t expect to live up to their promises because they were just so full of words, “The best, we’re the greatest, love us, best thing since sliced bread.” It turned out they were substantially faster. And actually, most of my performance to other countries was faster than it was with a direct connection to the other country. So that was an outlier. I was very surprised by that. Then we had CyberGhost was pretty quick. NordVPN was quick. Then StrongVPN and IPVanish wrapped up the set of the five that I did in my own testing.

And I also aggregated tests from around the internet. And that gave me a much better picture. And I’ll talk about that in a second. But from my own personal tests of those five, Hotspot Shield, CyberGhost, and NordVPN were the fastest for download speeds. In terms of ping time, CyberGhost and  NordVPN were the winners for how long it just took to send one signal to the remote site and get it back. That’s what ping time is. It’s I touch that site, I get back a response, and that’s a very quick response. And then time to connect, NordVPN and CyberGhost were slowest, and Hotspot ShieldIPVanish, and StrongVPN were the fastest.

So we’re looking at a range from about two seconds to 16 seconds per connection. So you push your little button and you start to connect and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and then you get your connection. If you’re doing this a lot, if you’re going from airport location to airport location each time you’re reconnecting, then you want the one with the fastest ping connection. If you’re doing it once for your day, then you don’t really care.

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Beth Mauder: So you said you looked at other sites too, and you aggregated data from elsewhere. Were your tests confirmed? Did you look for something else? What’d you find?

David Gewirtz: One of the things I did was I looked at 10 sites besides ZDNet, and most of them had lists of their top 10 or so VPNs. I eliminated anyone that only had one VPN reviewed or two VPN review because I wanted to see performance across the world. And the purpose of looking at these sites was that every testing, every site that did these tests was in a different location doing different performance. So if we were able to look at each of these different sites, and then see what was consistent across all their results, we’d get a better picture. So what we found was that ExpressVPNNordVPN, and Hotspot Shield were the top three across all of the sites we looked at. But what was interesting was what’s called the standard deviation, which is the difference between the results, your how many highs and how many lows you have.

It turned out that NordVPN’s difference was very low. They were mostly ones and twos, where Hotspot Shield had a bunch of ones and a bunch of sixes. So what that tells me is that that performance is consistent in certain locations, but not consistent in other locations. And the same applies to a few of the others. So what we found was that if you’re looking for the truest, most consistent set of results across all 10 plus ZDNet sites, then NordVPN was the fastest and the most consistent. If you’re looking for what was just the fastest, but not as consistent across all the test points, then Hotspot Shield showed up pretty well as did  ExpressVPN.

So from that, what do you take out of it? Well, the fact is almost all of these companies have 30 to 45-day money-back guarantees. And the reality is your mileage is going to be different from everybody else’s. Your mileage may vary. So what you really need to take out of this is you need to test it in that 30 to 45 days and find out how it performed for you, especially if you’re just at home and you’re working from home, then that’s easy. But if you’re traveling between home and office, or you’re going to your favorite coffee shop, if they still exist, or you’re going to the airport and you’re allowed to do that, you should test in those environments because that’s the kind of environment you’re working in, and see whether you’re getting the numbers you need. Because really, the bottom line is what our tests can eliminate, you’re having to look at the 500 VPNs out there and narrow it down to, say, three or four to start with. But you should check those three or four for what works best for you.

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Beth Mauder: Anything else, David?

David Gewirtz: I would say that things to look at, and if you’re looking at choosing a VPN, you want to look for a VPN that has something called a kill switch. What that means is, is that if the VPN ceases to function, it doesn’t just let your data go out. What it does is it shuts off your internet connection. That’s a really important thing to keep in mind. Because again, if you’re in a coffee shop somewhere and the VPN itself quits for some reason, without the kill switch, now your data is free and open to go out to everyone. What you want is to have it decide, “I don’t have a connection. I am just going to shut you on down.” And that way, you’re careful about that. Other things to keep in mind are what you’re using the VPN for. Are you using it just to protect your login information? Or are you using it because you’re concerned about stalkers or you’re an activist or something like that?

If you’re just protecting your own information and you’re in a coffee shop, then most of these VPNs will do fine for you. If you are using the VPN to protect your life, then you need to do additional research. No one of these articles will be enough. You need to go onto forums. You need to go to groups that are like you to see what they say and what they experience. Because many people, well, not many people, but a significant percentage of people use VPNs to protect their lives in certain ways. And for that, be more serious than just reading one review.

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/fastest-vpn-how-we-rated-the-top-services/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Dutch police post ‘friendly’ warnings on hacking forums

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Dutch police have posted “friendly” messages on two of today’s largest hacking forums warning cyber-criminals that “hosting criminal infrastructure in the Netherlands is a lost cause.”

The messages were posted following “Operation Ladybird,” during which law enforcement agencies across several countries intervened to take down Emotet, one of today’s largest botnets.

Dutch police played a crucial role in the Emotet takedown after its officers seized two of three key Emotet command and control servers that were hosted in the Netherlands.

But today, Dutch police revealed that after the Emotet takedown, its officers also went on Raid and XSS, two publicly accessible and very popular hacking forums, and posted messages in order to dissuade other threat actors from abusing Dutch hosting providers to host botnets or other forms of cybercrime.

A message in English was posted on Raid, a forum popular with stolen data traders, and a second message, in Russian, was posted on XSS (formerly known as DamageLab), a Russian-speaking forum where hackers rent access to malware-as-a-service operations, and a forum usually frequented by today’s top ransomware gangs.

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Message posted on the Raid forum by Dutch police

Image: Dutch police

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Message posted on the XSS forum by Dutch police

Image: Dutch police

The messages, as can be seen above, warn hackers that “hosting criminal infrastructure in the Netherlands is a lost cause” and that Dutch police plans to continue seizing their infrastructure.

A link to a YouTube video was also included, a video that ends with a message from Dutch police that says: “Everyone makes mistakes. We are waiting for yours.”

The aggressive messages aren’t a surprise, at least for cyber-security experts, most of which are well aware of the Dutch police’s aggressive stance.

Over the past years, Dutch police have been at the center of many botnet takedowns, big and small. They arrested the owners of two web hosting providers that commonly hosted DDoS botnets, took down 15 different DDoS botnets in a week, moved to intercept encrypted BlackBox cryptophone messages, shut down Ennetcom for providing encrypted chat support for cybrecrime groups, and have aggressively hunted phishers, malware operators, and users of DDoS-for-hire services.

Dutch police are also currently at the heart of a mass-uninstallation operation to remove the Emotet malware from infected hosts, together with German police.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/dutch-police-post-friendly-warnings-on-hacking-forums/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold review: An innovative shape-shifting tablet/laptop

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Pros

  • Innovative industrial design
  • Bright, sharp OLED screen
  • Solid screen folding mechanism
  • Robust chassis build
  • Optional 5G mobile broadband

Cons

  • Can’t customise processor or RAM
  • Minimal ports
  • Disappointing mini-keyboard and touchpad
  • Battery life could be better
  • Kickstand only supports landscape mode
  • Seriously expensive

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold is the world’s first foldable PC. Its 13.3-inch OLED screen folds down the middle, allowing you to use it in laptop mode with a mini-keyboard, fully open as a handheld tablet, or as a standalone screen, propped up by its kickstand. This fascinating innovation doesn’t come cheap, though. The starting price is £2,301.43 (inc. VAT; £1,917.86 ex. VAT) in the UK, or $2,499 in the US. 

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Lenovo’s 13.3-inch ThinkPad X1 Fold can operate in multiple modes.

Images: Lenovo

There’s a compelling concept behind the ThinkPad X1 Fold: to deliver excellent tablet and laptop modes, with a work- and leisure-friendly screen, while being portable and making no compromise on usability. That’s a big ask, and it’s important to note at the outset that despite Lenovo’s best efforts, the X1 Fold doesn’t provide all the answers.

Fully open, the touch screen measures 13.3 inches across the diagonal, with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (192.5ppi, 4:3 aspect ratio). Although maximum brightness is only 300 nits, the OLED panel delivers  clear, sharp images with vibrant colours. It’s a pleasure to use in tablet mode, in both landscape and portrait orientation.

There’s a kickstand built into the back of the device that holds the ThinkPad X1 Fold at an upright angle in landscape orientation. However, when I tapped anywhere in the upper quarter of the screen, it felt in danger of tipping backwards. You can’t prop up the X1 Fold in portrait mode. 

There are speakers on the long edges, which deliver plenty of volume. Bass tones could be stronger, but that’s a perennial issue with laptops. However, the positioning of the speaker grilles means that when the kickstand is used for landscape-mode operation, the lower speaker can get muffled. 

You can interact with the screen with a fingertip or by using the Lenovo Mod Pen stylus, the on-screen soft keyboard or a physical Mini Keyboard. The stylus and mini-keyboard are provided with three of the four off-the-shelf iterations of this laptop in the UK, although the entry-level £2,301.43 (inc. VAT) model doesn’t include them. The Mode Pen costs £90 (inc. VAT), while the Mini Keyboard adds £200 (inc. VAT) to the price. 

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Images at Lenovo’s website show the ThinkPad X1 Fold being held in one hand as if it were a paperback book. That’s somewhat disingenuous, given that the device weighs a kilogram (0.99kg to be exact). 

When you start to fold the screen, an applet called the Lenovo Mode Switcher appears. You tap this to either keep the screen in single view mode, or have two vertical pages. Mode Switcher is available whenever you want to use it, so it’s easy to flip between different viewing modes. Dragging windows around the screen isn’t always as easy or effective as it should be: I found resizing a little jerky, and it’s tricky dragging apps across the folded area of the screen. It’s also irritating that when you fold the screen for laptop mode use and place the mini-keyboard onto its bottom half, windows don’t automatically resize to fit the top half of the screen only. 

To put the ThinkPad X1 Fold away you close it up as you would close a book. The result is something with a desktop footprint little bigger than a paperback book, although it’s thicker than many paperbacks. The folded dimensions are: 158.2mm x 236mm x 27.8mm, while unfolded (with the screen entirely flat) it measures 299.4mm x 236mm x 11.5mm. When you’re travelling with the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the mini-keyboard will sit inside the fold, and the keyboard has an integrated loop to house the Mod Pen stylus. The body of the ThinkPad X1 Fold is covered in soft and pliable leather at the back, giving it a folio-like appearance when closed. 

As for the X1 Fold’s robustness, only long-term use will confirm whether the screen and hinge mechanism withstand being folded multiple times a day. There’s a rubbery, bevelled, flexing section on the bezel at the fold point, which has enough of an airgap at its outer edge at certain fold angles to raise concern about dust ingress.  But the build includes both carbon fibre and magnesium alloy, and the spec sheet notes that the X1 Fold has passed MIL-STD 810H ruggedness tests. 

Lenovo allays concern that the folding screen might be prone to scratching, noting that it’s been tested for the effects of objects getting wedged in the gap that’s apparent when the device is folded up like a book. 

You can use the provided mini-keyboard either perched on one half of the screen where it’s secured by magnets, with the other half of the screen folded upwards laptop-style, or entirely separately from the fully folded-out screen. I preferred the latter mode, as it offered more screen real estate, and felt a lot less cramped. 

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Left: Screen fully open and supported in landscape orientation by the kickstand, with the Bluetooth Mini-Keyboard and Mod Pen stylus. Right: laptop mode, with the Mini-Keyboard magnetically attached to half of the folded screen.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Unusually for Lenovo, the keyboard is disappointing in use. Thin and light, it feels a little flimsy in the hands, but that’s not its main failing. There’s very little return to the keys, and it’s frustrating that access to some characters — such as square brackets and ‘/’ — require the Fn key to be held down; others — such as curled brackets, ‘?’ and ‘@’ — require Ctrl as well. It’s quite a steep learning curve, and typing speed is likely to suffer until you adjust — or switch to a better Bluetooth keyboard. 

The touchpad is even more disappointing because, at 2.5 inches wide, it’s just too small for its intended function. Lenovo clearly wanted to give as much space as possible to the keyboard, but the touchpad suffers as a result. 

The internal battery for the Mini Keyboard provides up to 40 hours of use, Lenovo says, and can be charged either via USB or wirelessly from the X1 Fold when the keyboard is attached in laptop mode. USB charging is via Micro-USB — a distinctly legacy solution for such an otherwise forward-looking product. 

The Mod Pen stylus is far better, although it’s a shame there’s no magnet to hold it to the ThinkPad X1 Fold. Still it’s efficient and usable, supporting 4,096 pressure levels. The Mod Pen charges via USB-C, with a single charge lasting for 332 hours, according to Lenovo. 

There is a 5MP hybrid IR webcam on the left side of the top bezel when the screen is fully open and in landscape mode. It works fine for video calls in this orientation, but less so in laptop mode, when the camera is on the right side, close to the hinge. There’s no ThinkShutter privacy cover, as seen on many ThinkPads, although the bezel seems big enough to accommodate this. If cost considerations ruled out a ThinkShutter, that’s arguably a false economy. 

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth (5.1) are on-board as standard, with 5G mobile broadband a £220 (inc. VAT) optional extra. The entry-level pre-configured model runs Windows 10 Home, while the remainder run Windows 10 Pro. All four UK off-the-shelf configurations are built around Intel’s Core i5 L1G67 processor with Hybrid Technology and 8GB of RAM, and neither CPU nor RAM can be customised. You can go beyond the entry-level 256GB of SSD storage, to 512GB (+£120) or 1TB (+£180).  

Lenovo is frugal with ports and connectors, providing just two USB-C ports on the chassis, one of which is needed for charging. One of the USB-C ports is, irritatingly, inaccessible when the kickstand is in use. There’s no fingerprint reader, and not even a 3.5mm headset connector, which is standard fare in laptops. 

My review configuration had a 256GB SSD and cost £2,799.99 (inc. VAT; £2.333.32 ex. VAT). A high-end model with a 512GB SSD and mobile broadband costs £3,159.99 (inc. VAT; £2,633.32 ex. VAT). 

Lenovo claims 8.5 hours of life for the ThinkPad X1 Fold’s 50Wh battery, which is modest by today’s standards. In fairness, there isn’t a great deal of chassis space in which to store a battery, but bear this in mind if you’re considering the X1 Fold as your main workhorse. To test battery life, I worked in both full-screen and half-screen modes with the mini-keyboard across a three-hour period, during which I wrote into web apps, browsed and streamed music and video. During this period the battery dropped 37% from a full charge, suggesting battery life of just over 8 hours. Lenovo says the battery will recharge to 80% in an hour. 

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Image: Lenovo

Conclusions

The ThinkPad X1 Fold’s signature folding screen worked faultlessly throughout the review period, and is a marvel. That said, there are some significant usability issues to contend with, such as the poor mini-keyboard, a dearth of ports and connectors, and moderate battery life. Also, it’s not clear why the webcam lacks a ThinkShutter, one of the USB-C ports is inaccessible when the kickstand is in use, and the kickstand only supports landscape mode.

Factor in the price, which is high at the entry level and gets astronomical towards the top end, and it’s hard to recommend the ThinkPad X1 Fold. As a proof-of-concept for folding screens, it’s exemplary. But as an everyday tablet/laptop it’s expensive and under-specified, with too many usability compromises. 

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/product/lenovo-thinkpad-x1-fold/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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Ditching LastPass? Here are some alternatives to try

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LastPass has announced some big changes to its free offering, making the service much more restrictive for people who want to access their passwords across mobile devices and computers.

Now, before I go any further, I think it’s worth pointing out that I am a LastPass Premium user. I have been for many years, and I’ve been 100 percent satisfied with the service, especially for $3 a month.

But, I can also understand why you might not be so keen to pay for something that was previously free.

Let’s take a look at what alternatives are on offer to you.

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This is a great choice for those in the Apple ecosystem. Save a password on one device, and it’s available on all your Apple devices.

It works well for saving web and app log in details, but it’s not really suited to other passwords and things like PIN codes.

It’s free, but the cost of entry into the Apple club can hardly be considered free.

View Now at Apple

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If you’re a Google Chrome user, then you already have a cross-platform password manager that will work anywhere you have Google Chrome installed and signed in to your Google Account.

It works well for saving web and app log-in details, but it’s not really suited to other passwords and things like PIN codes.

View Now at Google

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The free plan allows you to store unlimited passwords, notes, and credit cards and sync them to an unlimited number of devices, but you can only have one active device (in other words, you’ll be logged out of other devices).

The premium plan, which starts at $1.49 a month if you take out a two-year plan, is one of the best-value premium offering out there.

View Now at Nord

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Along with a paid service, LogMeOnce offers a free ad-supported service that offers unlimited passwords across unlimited devices. You can also get a password generator, and the ability to store three credit cards.

View Now at LogMeOnce

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While being part of a much bigger suite, Zoho Vault is offered as a free password service with unlimited passwords across unlimited devices, as well as premium features such as two-factor authentication and a password generator.

View Now at Zoho

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Not a cloud-service, but a free, open source, lightweight and easy-to-use password manager for Windows. Not using Windows? There are unofficial ports for a variety of platforms (make of that what you will), including Android, macOS, iOS and iPadOS.

I’ve used KeePass in the past, but the absence of cloud syncing and automatic syncing across multiple devices makes it harder work to use.

View Now at KeePass

See also: Best password managers in 2021 for business or personal use

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ditching-lastpass-here-are-some-alternatives-to-try/#ftag=RSSbaffb68

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