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Data Breach Defense: Password Managers

Data Breach Defense: Password Managers

What is a Password Manager?

A password manager is a program or service that allows you to record login information such as username, password, login link, and other data. Your password database is stored in an encrypted format. Additional security measures vary from service to service.

Why do I Need a Password Manager?

The single most important thing you can do to protect your accounts is to use strong, unique passwords that are not reused anywhere. I discussed in the Understanding Data Breaches section how encrypted passwords can be stolen from a service’s database and then decrypted later. Using a strong, unique password will make your password practically impossible to decrypt, thereby keeping your accounts safe even in that situation. A strong password should consist of sixteen or more characters consisting of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters, and should not be reused on any other accounts. Of course, this means that a good password is impossible to remember, so the solution is to use a password manager. By using a password manager, you only ever have to remember a single password: the master password to login.

What Should I Look For in a Password Manager?

The most important thing is to look for a service that is “zero knowledge,“. They may also use terms like “zero access” or “end-to-end encrypted.” (Note: this is different from regular encryption.) This means that no employee of the company can see your passwords and information. Remember: if they can see it, so can a criminal who gains access. You should also consider whether or not cloud-based services are right for you. Cloud-based services offer conveniences like synchronization between devices, but you also run the risk that a successful criminal will download your database and then have all the time in the world to find weaknesses in the encryption. Conversely, locally-stored databases are safer from a data breach but run the risk of getting deleted, lost, or corrupted if you don’t keep reliable backups.

Listed in alphabetical order, not order of recommendation

  • Audited

  • Available on Debian, Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS

  • Cloud based

  • Not all clients are audited

  • Not cloud based

Click here to see my criteria for selecting these services

Click here for a visual version of this chart

Getting Started

I suggest you stop what you’re doing immediately and adopt secure passwords for your most critical accounts. Bank, email, and other accounts you can’t afford to live without. Do it right now before you do anything else.

For the rest of your accounts, I recommend updating your passwords to something secure “as you go.” This means you change passwords as you use them. For example, next time you log into eBay, change your password. Then, next time you order pizza, change that password. In time every account will have a unique, strong password.

Tips & Tricks

For your master login password, use a passphrase. A passphrase is a series of words rather than a single word. A good passphrase should be at least five random words, so try to avoid famous quotes or obvious words like a list of your children’s names. A good passphrase can take upwards of hundreds of years to brute force or guess.

Password managers typically include a note-taking section. This is a great spot to take notes like MFA backup codes, answers to security questions, or other account-specific details you want to remember. However, beware that this creates a single point of failure, so ensure that you’re applying maximum protection to your password manager in this case.

A common strategy for added account security is to give false answers to security questions. For example, a common security question is “what is your father’s middle name?” This kind of information is easy to find online for most people these days due to the increasingly digital nature of public records. A criminal could call the bank posing as you, answer the question, and transfer all your funds out of your account. Instead of the true answer, answer with a randomly generated word and record it in the notes section.