If you want to use a password manager (as you probably should), there are literally hundreds of them to choose from. And there are lots of reviews, weighing in features, usability and all other relevant factors to help you make an informed decision. Actually, almost all of them, with one factor suspiciously absent: security. How do you know whether you can trust the application with data as sensitive as your passwords?
Unfortunately, it’s really hard to see security or lack thereof. In fact, even tech publications struggle with this. They will talk about two-factor authentication support, even when discussing a local password manager where it is of very limited use. Or worse yet, they will fire up a debugger to check whether they can see any passwords in memory, completely disregarding the fact that somebody with debug rights can also install a simple key logger (meaning: game over for any password manager).
Judging security of a password manager is a very complex task, something that only experts in the field are capable of. The trouble: these experts usually work for competing products and badmouthing competition would make a bad impression. Luckily, this still leaves me. Actually, I’m not quite an expert, I merely know more than most. And I also work on competition, a password manager called PfP: Pain-free Passwords which I develop as a hobby. But today we’ll just ignore this.
So I want to go with you through some basic flaws which you might encounter in a local password manager. That’s a password manager where all data is stored on your computer rather than being uploaded to some server, a rather convenient feature if you want to take a quick look. Some technical understanding is required, but hopefully you will be able to apply the tricks shown here, particularly if you plan to write about a password manager.
Our guinea pig is a password manager called Password Depot, produced by the German company AceBit GmbH. What’s so special about Password Depot? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that one of their users asked me for a favor. So I spent 30 minutes looking into it and noticed that they’ve done pretty much everything wrong that they could.
Note: The flaws discussed here have been reported to the company in February this year. The company assured that they take these very seriously but, to my knowledge, didn’t manage to address any of them so far.