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The subject of passwords is important today since they protect all of your accounts, and are frequently attacked by crackers. In this presentation I examine the technology used to handle and protect passwords, and make recommendations for what the user can do to protect themselves online.

Published in: Technology
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  1. 1. Passwords Kevin O'Brien Washtenaw Linux Users Group
  2. 2. The server side ● Your password is stored on a server somewhere ● How securely? ● May depend on the nature of the site
  3. 3. Access is the asset ● You have a password to grant you access to an online resource ● You want to keep others from this resource ● But some resources are more important than others
  4. 4. The site owner controls this! ● The only choice you have is the password you will use ● The site owner needs to secure and protect it ● Good luck if that site is Sony
  5. 5. Threats aimed at you ● You are the biggest threat ● Social engineering is still an excellent way to get your password ● “Hi, I'm Ted from IT, and I need to verify your password...” ● Or it might be an e-mail with a clickable link to malware
  6. 6. But are you the best target? ● Social engineering is retail ● Hackers want to go wholesale ● You are only a good individual target if the payout is compelling ● That means it is personal ● Or that you have something really valuable (e.g. intellectual property, access to corporate assets)
  7. 7. Money makes the world go round ● The best financial payoff in most cases is by cracking a business database of customer data ● Right now companies are largely escaping liability when this happens ● This creates a type of moral hazard ● Companies will only spend money on security when the cost of security is less than the cost of failure
  8. 8. Password Proliferation ● These days almost any site you go to demands a login and password to do just about anything ● This creates problems because people cannot handle this in a safe manner ● For instance, every password must contain a letter, a number, a symbol, a squirrel sound, and a Sanskrit hieroglyph
  9. 9. Sites induce failure ● If you need a ton of passwords, chances are you will use the same one over and over ● And if you use the same password to post a comment on the Rabid Rabbit blog as you do for your bank, a cracker can attack the blog to get into your bank account. ● So step one is to triage your sites by importance
  10. 10. Important sites ● A site is important if it has an asset that you really want to protect ● Banking ● Health information ● Email ● These sites should have unique and secure passwords
  11. 11. What can a cracker do? ● Well, if they can get into your bank account, they can wire money from your account to an account in say Belorussia ● And you may be liable for the money in that case, not the bank ● Disable any online banking features you don't absolutely need
  12. 12. Throwaway sites ● If you need a password to comment on a blog post, that is throwaway ● The password here should never be one you use on an important site ● But it probably does little harm to use the same one multiple times if you are accurate about your triage
  13. 13. How crackers work ● They may start with a targeted attack on an individual with access (spear phishing) to get a password ● Or they find a weakness in the online/network software (e.g. privilege elevation) ● Either way, they get access to the database
  14. 14. Worst case scenario ● The site has simply stored passwords as clear text ● This means the cracker has everything as soon as they get the database ● One possible sign of this is when password length is limited to a certain number of characters ● They may not tell you. Try leaving off the last character and see if you get in
  15. 15. Hashing ● Uses a one-way function to encrypt the password ● Easy to compute the hash ● Infeasible to reverse the process and get back the original ● Infeasible to modify the original without modifying the hash ● Infeasible to get two originals with the same hash
  16. 16. Infeasible? ● We are talking about current technology ● We can mathematically analyze the level of resources needed to crack a hash using current technology ● We can reasonably forecast the advancement of that technology absent fundamental breakthroughs
  17. 17. Arms race ● But it is an arms race ● NSA, GCHQ, and criminals (hard to tell the difference sometimes) are all eager to break encryption ● Researchers are busy researching ● Quantum computing could change the field drastically
  18. 18. Hashing algorithms ● MD5 – created by Ron Rivest (RSA) in 1991, but no longer secure ● Secure Hashing Algorithm 1 (SHA1) – Created by NSA and required in many government applications, but found to be less secure in 2005, leading to SHA2 ● SHA3 was recently specified after a competition, but is very new and not in wide use yet
  19. 19. So what does a responsible owner do? ● Use encryption ● Definitely not MD5 ● Hopefully not SHA1 ● Ideally SHA2 or SHA3, but for now SHA2 is your best bet. ● Note that SHA1 certificates are already scheduled for EOL (Google, right now; Microsoft, 2017)
  20. 20. How passwords work in practice ● Generally, your password is transmitted to the site in the clear, which makes you vulnerable to man-in- the-middle attack ● That is why an SSL connection is important for any site that is important ● Browsers are starting to be configured to do this by default ● EFF has a plug-in for this as well:
  21. 21. Hashing on site ● The password is then hashed by the Web site, and the hash is stored ● On later logins, the password is again hashed, and the hashes are compared ● Done properly, the hash cannot be cracked by a frontal brute force attack with current technology
  22. 22. Dictionary attacks ● This is the way most attacks are done ● A large number of passwords are created and hashed by the crackers. ● They can then lookup hashes in the database against their dictionary ● Generally, at least 50% of the passwords in a database can be found by this method fairly quickly
  23. 23. The bad news ● A lot of people use known poor passwords ● “password”, “1234”, “letmein” ● Leet-speak is no defense, the dictionaries all have that included ● Many people use the same bad password, so all of them will will fail at once
  24. 24. Solution: Salted Hash ● A random number is added to the password before it is hashed ● This is called the “salt” ● The dictionaries won't work unless they are compiled using the exact same random number ● The salt has to be stored as well as the hash for future login purposes
  25. 25. Salt is discoverable, but no matter ● The salt is probably in the same database as the hash ● So crackers will get the salt ● But then they need to compile their entire dictionary for each salt to get a possible hit ● If every account has a different salt, that is a lot of computation
  26. 26. Salt explanation A really good explanation of how to do salted hashes correctly can be found at: d-Password-Hashing-Doing-it-Right
  27. 27. You have a responsibility too ● We looked at what site owners ought to be doing ● But you too have a responsibility ● You need to create passwords that are less likely to fall to a dictionary attack ● But remember this is an arms race, you need to follow changes in technology and be ready to make your changes in response
  28. 28. Entropy ● Essentially, the degree of randomness in a system ● @^$(hodjhij6 is pretty random ● “123456” is not at all random ● Nor is “password” ● Random = less likely to be in a dictionary
  29. 29. Uncrackable? ● Possibly, if both you and the site do everything correctly ● But changes in technology affect this ● The NSA is storing a whole bunch of encrypted messages for the day they can crack them ● If this is your concern, you need to be very vigilant and follow the technology
  30. 30. Realistically... ● What most of us really need to do is not have our bank account drained by a bad guy ● Or have our health information revealed publicly ● Or have our identity stolen ● Etc.
  31. 31. Don't reuse passwords ● This is the most common mistake people make ● Crackers now get passwords from one site and start trying them on banks ● They get enough hits to make this very lucrative ● Any site that is important should have a unique, strong password ● Probably OK to have a standard password that is throwaway for low-value sites (e.g. blogs)
  32. 32. Add to the entropy ● Avoid common names ● ● For some reason “monkey” is very popular ● The ironic one is “trustno1” ● But any word or name is bad
  33. 33. Entropy in action ● Suppose you have a 6-character password made of random lowercase letters ● You have 266 possible passwords (assuming standard English alphabet) ● 266=308,915,776 ● How good is this?
  34. 34. Hashing mathematics ● Bitcoin mining works by calculating hashes ● Some very clever people have a monetary incentive to improve hashing performance ● As of this writing I have seen reports of 800 billion hashes per second in bitcoin mining rigs ● So 308,915,776 combination can be checked in a very small fraction of a second using equipment available to the general public today
  35. 35. Adding to the field ● If we have a mix of upper and lowercase, that gives us 526=19,770,609,664 ● Better, but it still only takes a bitcoin mining rig less than a second ● Add in numbers, and 626~=57 billion ● Add in special characters, and 956~=700 billion
  36. 36. Password Haystacks ● Term coined by Steve Gibson ● The way to make it harder to search for a needle in a haystack is to make the haystack much bigger ● This approach says length trumps everything ● Gibson claims that “………..pass……………” is actually secure as long as the cracker doesn't have advance knowledge of your particular algorithm
  37. 37. Dictionaries and long passwords ● Suppose you create a password of 30 characters ● You use all 95 keyboard characters ● And your password isn't limited to only 30 characters ● This gets interesting ● In theory, the total number of combinations is 95+952+953+954+....9529+9530 = 2*1052
  38. 38. How big is that? ● Assume a bitcoin mining rig can compute a trillion hashes per second ● A trillion is 1012 ● So the number of seconds needed to search this particular haystack is 2*1047 ● One year has 3*107 seconds ● So it requires 6*1039 years to search this ● The universe is 1.3*1010 years old
  39. 39. Computationally infeasible ● This is the definition of computationally infeasible ● But note that crackers are not sitting still either ● A long passphrase made up of dictionary words is vulnerable ● nofatebutwhatwemake-turbo-charged-cracking-comes- to-long-passwords/
  40. 40. Long and random ● The only way to guarantee (for now, remember) that your password cannot be cracked is to have passwords both long and random ● If quantum computing comes in, everything changes ● But quantum computing will change encryption technology as well, so the world probably will not come to an end
  41. 41. Implications ● Everyone needs long, random passwords ● Almost by definition, this means they are difficult if not impossible to remember ● Passwords are perhaps the worst possible way of securely authenticating people ● Which is why we are working on ways to get away from passwords
  42. 42. For now... ● Use Two-factor authentication when offered (Duo Security, Google, Ubikey, etc.) ● Use a password generator and vault (e.g. LastPass, KeePassX) ● These generate strong passwords and store them for you ● This works on the principle of “Keep all of your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket!”
  43. 43. LastPass ● Made for web site logins ● Available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE ● Integrates with Duo Security and Ubikey for two-factor authentication ● Can automatically log you in to a site ● Information stored in the cloud, but encrypted first on your machine before being uploaded (AES-256) ● Requires that you memorize one strong password to protect your vault
  44. 44. KeePassX ● Stores your passwords locally in an encrypted database ● Available offline, which is why I store my WiFi password at home in here ● Having passwords in two places is a good idea for guaranteeing access to you ● Again, needs a good password to protect the database
  45. 45. Recommendations ● Right now, in 2014, the best recommendation is to use long, random passwords ● Since this means they cannot be memorized, use something like LastPass, KeePassX, or both, to generate and store passwords. ● I personally use both