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French-American software start-up to launch automatic password changer

[LONDON] A French-American software start-up is to launch the world's first mainstream automatic password changer in an attempt to remove the all-too-human frailty that has rendered the phrase "computer security" a worrying oxymoron.

For most people, properly managing passwords verges on impossible, given the dizzying array of devices and websites on which we have all become increasingly reliant. But is stepping up its offering to counter hackers.

The company, which has three million users of its existing password management service, announced on Tuesday that it has acquired PassOmatic, a New York start-up that created the automatic password changer Dashlane plans to incorporate into its own products in the coming weeks. The terms of the deal were undisclosed.

Dozens of similarly featured programmes exist, with LastPass, RoboForm and Dashlane among the most popular across both computer and phone systems. Each helps users to store and organise their passwords in a secure database controlled by a master password.

But by offering a way to change passwords regularly with just a few clicks, Dashlane's approach marks a breakthrough in an industry that typically demands users create complex strings of text and numbers - a request that largely goes unheeded. "The key is to have reasonably complicated passwords that are different on every website," Dashlane Chief Executive Emmanuel Schalit said in a telephone interview.

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Dashlane will introduce a feature that updates passwords automatically at pre-set intervals, say every 30 days, or at the user's request if, for example, a website's security has been compromised.

"We are making passwords go away from the perspective of the consumer, without doing away with passwords from a technical perspective," Mr Schalit said.

Though some cyber security experts have said passwords will eventually be replaced by other forms of identification, such as fingerprints, the prospect of passwords disappearing completely remains a long way off and Dashlane has, in effect, found a way to manage a user's digital identity across the Web.

The new software will be free on a single device but will cost US$39.99 a year to manage passwords across multiple devices and access premium features. Rival programmes range in price from free to around US$30 a year. Dashlane raised its price from US$29.95 in September.

Dashlane is unusual for being the only company in the password management field to be venture capital-backed, having received US$30 million in funding from Rho Ventures, FirstMark Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners.

It was founded in Paris five years ago by three engineers backed by Bernard Liautaud, the French entrepreneur who started Business Objects, the data analysis software company acquired by SAP for US$6.8 billion in 2007. It moved to New York in 2011 but most employees remain based in Paris.


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