Securely Storing Passwords
HP support veteran joins workforce for hire

Remembering Your Secured Passwords

By Steve Hardwick, CISSP

Second of two parts

Once you have created good passwords, your next challenge is how to remember them all. Some of the passwords I use I tend to remember due to repetitive use. The password for logging into my system is one I tend to remember, even through it is 11 characters long. But many of my passwords I use infrequently -- my router for example, and many have the “remember me” function when I log on.

What happens when I want to recall one of these? Well the first thing is not to write them down unless you absolutely have to. You would be amazed how many times I have seen someone password taped on the underside of their laptop. A better option is to store them on your machine. How do you do that securely?Well, there are several ways.

One easy way is to use a password vault or password manager. This creates a single encrypted file that you can access with a single username and password. Username and password combinations can then be entered into the password vault application together with their corresponding account. The big advantage is that it is now easy to access the access data with one username and password.

The one flaw: what happens if the drive crashes that contains the vault application and data? If you wanted to get started with a password vault application, InfoWorld offered a good article that compares some leading products.

Another option is to roll your own vault services. Create a text file and enter all of your account / username / password combinations. Once you are done, obtain some encryption technology. There are open source products -- truecrypt is the leader -- or you can use the encryption built into your OS. The advantage of using open source is that it runs on multiple operating systems. Encrypt the text file by using your software. Take caution to not use the default file name the application gives you, as it will be based on your text file name.

Once you have created your encrypted file from the text file, open the text file again. Select all the text in the file and delete it. Then copy a large block of text into the file and save it (more then you had with the passwords). Then delete the file. This will make sure that the text file cannot easily be recovered. If you know how to securely delete the file do that instead. Now you can remotely store the encrypted password file in a remote location, cloud storage, another computer, USB drive etc. You will then have a copy of your password file you can recover should you lose access to the one on your main machine.

Now, if you do not want to use encryption, let's look at why not. Well, most programs use specific file extensions for their encrypted file. When auditing, the first thing I would look for is files with encryption extensions. I would then look for any files that were similar in size or name to see if I could discover the source. This includes looking through the deleted file history.

The other option is steganography, or stego for short. The simple definition is the ability to bury information into other data – for example, pictures. Rather than give a detailed description of the technology here, take a look at the Wikipedia page. There is also a page with some stego tools on it . For a long time my work laptop had a screen saver that contained all my passwords. I am thinking of putting a picture up on Facebook next.

Here are a few simple rules on handling multiple passwords

1. Try and use uniques usernames and password for sensitive account. You can use the same username password combination for low sensitive accounts.

2. Run through an exercise and ask yourself, what happens if this account is hacked. So don't use the same username and password for everything.

3. Do not write down your passwords to store them.

4. Make sure you have a secure backup copy of your passwords; use encryption or steganography.

If you want to do some extra credit reading on passwords, there are two good references out there and they are free. The National Institute of Standards and Technologies has a library on security topics that is used by the federal government., a good publication on passwords.

The SP 800-118 DRAFT Guide to Enterprise Password Management  focuses on topics such as defining password policy requirements and selecting centralized and local password management solutions. 

Steve Hardwick (CISSP) is the Product Manager at Oxygen Financial, which offers advanced payment management solutions. He has over 20 years of worldwide technology experience. He was also a CISSP instructor with Global Knowledge for three years and held security positions at several companies.

Comments