You probably noticed that in the (frequent) posts talking about security and passwords lately, I keep suggesting LastPass as a password manager. This is the manager that I use myself, and the reason why I came to this one is multi-faceted, but essentially I’m suggesting you use a tool that does not make it more inconvenient to maintain proper password hygiene. Because yes, you should be using different passwords, with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols, but if you have to come up with a new one every time, then things are going to be difficult and you’ll just decide to use the same password over and over.
Or you’ll use a method for having “unique” passwords that are actually comprised of a fixed part and a mobile one (which is what I used for the longest time). And let’s be clear, using the same base password suffixed with the name of the site you’re signing up for is not a protection at all, the moment more than one of your passwords is discovered.
So convenience being important, because inconvenience just leads to bad security hygiene, LastPass delivers on what I need: it has autofill, so I don’t have to open a terminal and run
sgeps (like I used to be) to get the password out of the store, it generates the password in the browser, so I don’t have to open a terminal and run
pwgen, it runs on my cellphone, so I can use it to fetch the password to type somewhere else, and it even auto-fills my passwords in the Android apps, so I don’t have to use a simple password when dealing with some random website that then patches to an app on my phone. But it also has a few good “security conveniences”: you can re-encode your Vault on a new master password, you can use a proper OTP pad or a 2FA device to protect it further, and they have some extras such as letting you know if the email you use across services are involved in an account breach.
This does not mean there are no other good password management tools, I know the name of plenty, but I just looked for one that had the features I cared about, and I went with it. I’m happy with LastPass right now. Yes, I need to trust the company and their code a fair bit, but I don’t think that just being open source would gain me more trust. Being open source and audited for a long time, sure, but I don’t think either way it’s a dealbreaker for me. I mean Chrome itself has a password manager, it just feels not suitable for me (no generation, no obvious way to inspect the data from mobile, sometimes bad collation of URLs, and as far as I know no way to change the sync encryption password). It also requires me to have access to my Google account to get that data.
But the interesting part is how geeks will quickly suggest to just roll your own, be it using some open-source password manager, requiring an external sync system (I did that for sgeps, but it’s tied to a single GPG key, so it’s not easy for me having two different hardware smartcards), or even your own sync infrastructure. And this is what I really can’t stand as an answer, because it solves absolutely nothing. Jürgen called it cynical last year, but I think it’s even worse than that, it’s hypocritical.
Roll-your-own or host-your-own are, first of all, not going to be options for the people who have no intention to learn how computer systems work — and I can’t blame them, I don’t want to know how my fridge or dishwasher work, I just want them working. People don’t care to learn that you can get file A on computer B, but then if you change it on both while offline you’ll have collisions, so now you lost one of the two changes. They either have no time, or just no interest or (but I don’t think that happens often) no skill to understand that. And it’s not just the random young adult that ends up registering on xtube because they have no idea what it means. Jeremy Clarkson had to learn the hard way what it means to publish your bank details to the world.
But I think it’s more important to think of the amount of people who think that they have the skills and the time, and then are found lacking one or both of them. Who do you think can protect your content (and passwords) better? A big company with entire teams dedicated to security, or an average 16 years old guy who think he can run the website’s forum? — The reference here is to myself: back in 2000⁄2001 I used to be the forum admin for an Italian gaming community. We got hacked, multiple times, and every time it was for me a new discovery of what security is. At the time third-party forum hosting was reserved to paying customers, and the results have probably been terrible. My personal admin password matched one of my email addresses up until last week and I know for a fact that at least one group of people got access to the password database, where they were stored in plain text.
Yes it is true, targets such as Adobe will lead to many more valid email addresses and password hashes than your average forum, but as the “fake” 5M accounts should have shown you, targeting enough small fishes can lead to just about the same results, if not even better, as you may be lucky and stumble across two passwords for the same account, which allows you to overcome the above-mentioned similar-but-different passwords strategy. Indeed, as I noted in my previous post, Comic Book Database admitted to be the source of part of that dump, and it lists at least four thousand public users (contributors). Other sites such as MythTV Talk or PoliceAuctions.com, both also involved, have no such statement ether.
This is not just a matter of the security of the code itself, so the “many eyes” answer does not apply. It is very well possible to have a screw up with an open source program as well, if it’s misconfigured, or if a vulnerable version don’t get updated in time because the admin just has no time. You see that all the time with WordPress and its security issues. Indeed, the reason why I don’t migrate my blog to WordPress is that I won’t ever have enough time for it.
I have seen people, geeks and non-geeks both, taking the easy way out too many times, blaming Apple for the nude celebrity pictures or Google for the five million accounts. It’s a safe story: “the big guys don’t know better”, “you just should keep it off the Internet”, “you should run your own!” At the end of the day, both turned out to be collections, assembled from many small cuts, either targeted or not, in part due to people’s bad password hygiene (or operational security if you prefer a more geek term), and in part due to the fact that nothing is perfect.