The Perfect Free Password Management System

There’s no shortage of password management sites and applications. Chances are you’ve got one built into your web browser right now. However, there are pros and cons to each type of password manager.

In-Browser Password Management
Pros:

  1. Built into your browser and offers a reasonable level of security. There’s nothing to install – it just works.
  2. Integration level is excellent – username and password fields are automatically filled in without intervention and you are automatically prompted to save or update credentials as you use them.
  3. In regards to Firefox Sync and Google Chrome Browsing Profiles – password syncing. For example, if you use Chrome on your phone and on your PC you can save and have your passwords, bookmarks, and even browsing history synced between all of your devices.

Cons:

  1. By default, built-in browser password managers auto-fill stored usernames and passwords, which make them vulnerable to third party tracking.
  2. They don’t offer a password generation feature that can choose random and unique passwords for every site.

Typical Standalone Password Manager
Pros:

  1. Strong, unique password generation features discourage password reuse.
        a. Note: Regardless of the strength of a password, using the same one on multiple sites means that when even one of those is compromised that your stolen credentials can now be used to log onto the other sites that use the same password. This process is called credential stuffing.
  2. Syncing features to keep your credentials stored beyond just having them on a single device.
  3. [Generally] some level of browser and app-integration for inserting saved credentials more easily.

Cons:

  1. Costs [potentially]. This may be a one-time fee or a recurring cost ala LastPass.
  2. Third party dependency. How long will a given password management service be around, and once they are defunct what happens to the passwords you’ve stored with them?

Perfect Free Password Management System
Pros:

  1. Strong, unique password generation – just as with the Typical Standalone Password Manager.
  2. Password syncing is available through any file sharing service. In this example I’ll use Dropbox.
  3. Free.
  4. Works on every platform.

Cons:

  1. Lack of browser and app integration for inserting credentials.

The System
KeePass is used as the password manager guts of this system. It has variants that work on Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Linux.
KeePass lets you securely store passwords as well as any secret info [perhaps the gibberish you entered as the answers to some sites’ mandatory security questions?] in a single encrypted database file. It can [and should] be secured with a password and offers password generation features that will work for obscure password requirements; i.e. “8-16 characters with exactly one number and no more than two special characters”.

Dropbox provides the file syncing capability for the KeePass password file in this example, but any private file syncing site like it will work. Go ahead and sign up for a free account – the limited storage is more than enough for storing the tiny KeePass database.

Detailed Setup Instructions

  1. Sign up for Dropbox [or the file syncing site of your choice] – this should be self explanatory, but choose an excellent and unique password for this account since it will contain a file with all of the credentials for your digital life in it. Install it on all of the devices you need to sync passwords to and log in with the account you created.
  2. Download and install KeePass on all the devices you’ll be using it on. Choose the same version across-the-board to eliminate any compatibility issues. In this example I’ll use KeePass 2.x.
  3. Create a new password database and store it on your PC in the Dropbox shared folder. Password protect it by choosing a secure and unique password, since the difficulty in brute-forcing the database file is the only security this password manager has if it falls into the wrong hands. Don’t use the same password you just used for Dropbox.
  4. Create your first stored password entry. Save it and then save the database file. Watch as it magically syncs to the great cloud.
  5. From Dropbox on another device, open the password database file. This can be unclear how to do on mobile so review in the Examples section how opening the file in MiniKeePass from Dropbox on iOS works.

Examples

  1. Using KeePass on MacOS and syncing with Dropbox
  2. Using Dropbox on iOS to sync the KeePass database file and open it in MiniKeePass

Caveats
This is not a foolproof password syncing system. If you add an entry on your PC and then add one on your phone while it’s offline there will be conflicts syncing the database file with Dropbox when it’s back online. Since this is a single encrypted file rather than storage of individual credentials, the syncing system isn’t going to seamlessly sync changes like this. Avoid these scenarios by ensuring the password file is synced prior to making changes in it.

Conclusion
Password management need not be complex nor expensive. The days of ‘choose a memorable password’ are, unfortunately, long behind us now. Choosing unique, unmemorable passwords and storing them conveniently and securely is the best protection for limiting credential stuffing attacks when your personal information is made available from a breach. Choose the password manager built in to your browser, or succumb to the advertising of LastPass, or use this Perfect Free Password Management System – just choose and use something!

In-Flight Page Modification and Content Injection by ISPs, Hotels, and Wifi Access Points

Are you ever worried about connecting your phone or laptop to your hotel’s Wifi? Something about the scratchy towels and confusing array of door locks does little to inspire my trust in their network security. Regardless, I’d prefer to have Wifi speed while perusing /r/gifs/.

So, I connect to the hotel’s Wifi access point, go through their login portal with the provided password, and I’m good to go. I head to http://www.reddit.com/ and all is well. Except for that advertisement that’s in the footer of every page I visit. I know Reddit doesn’t have an ugly animated banner ad at the bottom of their pages. I know my laptop is free from adware. The HTTPS version of Reddit has no such banner ad, so what’s going on? /r/gifs/ and baby bat burritos will have to wait because something’s not right.

Here’s where the problem is – browsing unsecured, HTTP pages in your browser – ala http://www.reddit.com/. Most people assume that HTTPS [SSL] is only for your important, secretive browsing: think banking or paying your bills. Obviously, it’s important there because it stops third parties from seeing information like your credit card number. What else does HTTPS do? It guarantees that https://www.bankofamerica.com/ is actually Bank of America. In addition, it keeps any prying eyes from seeing the content of your traffic as it makes its way to and from the bank’s servers. More importantly, it keeps anyone from modifying it in-flight as it makes its way across the Internet.

You can see where the problem is if I were on https://www.bankofamerica.com/ and browsing for car loans that it would be a very bad scenario for me if my ISP, who wants to find new ways to make money with advertising, could inject competitor’s ads for other banks onto Bank of America’s pages as they come back through their servers to my browser. Worse, what if they modified the loan rates I saw on those pages so that I end up shopping for a loan elsewhere? This is what HTTPS prevents. It ensures that content remains encrypted and unaltered from Bank of America all the way to your browser.

So, where does my budget hotel ad injection scenario fit into this? For years it’s been known that ISPs can and do inject content into pages. Comcast is notorious for using this to display high monthly bandwidth usage warnings. While previously only a technology that ISPs might use it’s now commonplace enough that any provider of an Internet connection, whether it be your hotel or local coffee shop, can see the money to be made from injecting advertisements into the websites of people using their access points. Alternatively, maybe they’re getting a good deal on a Wifi/Internet package from a vendor and it’s the vendor who is ultimately making the money from the advertising/tracking opportunities.

This doesn’t stop at ISPs, or coffee shops, or hotels.
Comcast has extended their Ad injection to their Xfinity hotspots.
AT&T injects JavaScript into pages requested over its data connections.

Clearly this is a problem that is getting worse instead of better.

The takeaway from this is that it in-flight page modification and/or content injection is a common tactic and it’s unlikely to get better. What can be done? You can complain on the Internet and hope to shame companies to stop these practices. That could work. However, the best solution is ultimately to use HTTPS versions of sites whenever possible to prevent webpage content from being injected or modified. Websites without HTTPS availability at the moment will start seeing some pressure from both browser vendors and search engines to switch. Slowly but surely the web will become HTTPS by default; all the way down to animated gifs of baby bat burritos.