Are you using strong and unique passwords? You should!

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I have been following several stories of recent targeted attacks against a few high profile security professionals. Two that I was made aware of were pdp from GNUCITIZEN and Alan Shimel from StillSecure, After All These Years. pdp had his Gmail account compromised and his entire mailbox mirrored all over BitTorrent. Alan’s, was far worse with his mailbox compromised, personal info released and his blog domain hijacked. Both pdp and Alan have returned to blogging after the attacks and I commend them for making such a quick come back.

While these types of attacks are not new…it goes to show that this can happen to anyone, even high profile security professionals. Not much is known yet on how these attacks happened but I am willing to bet that common and/or weak passwords were part of the attacks in some way. Think about all the passwords you have…do you have the same one for everything? If you are a blogger or manage a web site think about the last time you changed the password you use for your domain registration (yeah..that was a long time ago right?)! Add to the fact that these passwords may not be very complex and you have a potentially dangerous situation.

Close to two years ago I started using a password manager and it has been one of the best things I have done to help sort out the password mess. Password managers are great…but you can still get lazy. We all have the lazy bug…especially with online forums and web sites. One idea that I learned to help combat this was to have a “throw away” password that you can easily remember (yet still somewhat complex) for things on the web that you wouldn’t care if they were compromised. Everything else…use the password manager and make sure you use a long (> 20 character) randomly generated password for each application. Keep in mind that 20 characters may be too long for certain web sites or applications. Case in point…LinkedIn has a limitation of 16 (I found this out the hard way). Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to use a password manager but in the end…it’s well worth the extra work.

So what password manager to use? I did a few posts a long time ago about two of them. However, over the years I have migrated everything over to KeePass and KeePassX (for OS X). Since I use multiple computers with different OS’s (and a Blackberry)…KeyPass is the only one that I found that can be easily used on multiple platforms. There are also a TON of great plugins. Add to the fact that it’s free…it’s tough to find a more robust solution.

So yes, go for it! These targeted attacks should remind you that it’s a good time to change those passwords to something complex and unique. Don’t forget to use a password manager to help you out!

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2 Comments

  1. Quzart says:

    Agreed, partially. It’s good to have a separate password for each application. Only the part of storing passwords together in one place bothers me. That’s why I just keep them all in my head. It isn’t as difficult as you might think … it only takes about 15 minutes (in the end) to remember a password forever, even the ones with more than 15 and _exotic_ characters.
    You could also use Japanese/Chinese characters in your passwords (like me), problem is that sometimes the password is first converted to the html/UTF-8 equivalent ( &something; ) and then stored. Luckily the html/UTF-8 equivalent is probably more than 6 characters in length, so you should be ok. Another problem is that you must have a computer that can convert romanji (Japanese written using Latin alphabet) to kana (Japanese characters). Some knowledge of the language is useful too ^^.

    It shows that LinkedIn perhaps isn’t hashing the passwords before storing it in their database, which obviously isn’t good at all.

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