password management

Be on-line means have user accounts in a lot of services, such as email, social web sites, blogs, etc.. And have multiple user accounts implies have to remember user names and passwords.

I know people that only have one user name and password and repeat the same for all their accounts. This approach may simplify the need to memorise a lot of different pair of words. But this method is not reliable at all: 1) if your password is compromised, you’ll have to change it in all your accounts, and 2) you may forget an account if you don’t keep track of all the accounts you sign up.

Another big issue is that most of the people have passwords easy to remember, and those passwords usually easy to crack.

In other words, we have two problems: 1) keep track of all our user accounts (resource, user name and password), and 2) the password must be not guessable.

For the second problem you may follow hints and craft each one. But I am lazy guy and computers execute algorithms better than me. So I installed an automated password generator (apg) and let the program offer me a set of possible passwords, choosing the most appealing one.

$ apg -M NCL -c cl_seed -t -x 8
Awnowov6 (Awn-ow-ov-SIX)
Biuj7qua (Bi-uj-SEVEN-qua)
RyecGod9 (Ryec-God-NINE)
Ojonrag1 (Oj-on-rag-ONE)
9KnecOng (NINE-Knec-Ong)
ClagHog0 (Clag-Hog-ZERO)

Neat, don’t you think?

Now, the straightforward solution for the first problem is write down, in a plain text file, the list of resources, user names and password, of every user account you have. This file can be consulted if you don’t remember the account data.

As a personal choice, I use, in Emacs, the org mode to organise the user data, because its table editor is just beautiful. Furthermore, I have several types of outlined user accounts (web sites, email servers, WEP keys, etc.), what it is also handled by org mode.

* web
| site                   | user         | password   |
|------------------------+--------------+------------|
| https://sitio.guay.com | mi_nick_guay | Ojonrag1   |
| ...

* email servers
| server         | user          | password         |
|----------------+---------------+------------------|
| mi_empresa.com | mi_nick_serio | ClagHog0         |
| ...

* wep
| essid          | password  |
|----------------+-----------|
| essid_del_piso | Awnowov6  |
| ...

But now we have a problem: have a plain text file with all your passwords is more insecure than just have one shared among all your user accounts. If somebody gain access to this file, (s)he will own you.

The solution can’t be more simpler: encrypt the file! Well, yes, you’ll have to remember one password, but only one! In order to encrypt GPG is the way to go. GPG not only support asymmetric encryption, but also symmetric, which may be handy if you don’t like or you are not used to use private/public keys. Nevertheless, is worthy learn how to interact with the asymmetric encryption.

Well, if you use Emacs, you have the EasyPG mode, which will easy the GPG interaction, avoiding you to run the gpg command each time you want to read or save your file, the mode will detect if the file is encrypted and it will ask you for the pass phrase to decrypt it transparently for the user.

Once you have encrypted your password file, you can put it in your home page for backup and roaming purposes.

Neat, don’t you think?

This post is heavily inspired in Keeping your secrets secret.

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One comment

  1. Maaaan, you know there is such thing in the web like search engine, http://google.com if you don’t, go there to understand why this post is bullshit

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