Here at Naked Security, we have a variety of views about password managers.
Generally speaking, we’re in favour, because password managers are tools that generate and store a list of different, hard-to-guess passwords for all your websites and online accounts.
That means that if you’re the kind of person who has hundreds of passwords, or who struggles to memorise even a few wackily long and mixed-up passwords, or both, password managers can be a huge help.
With a password manager, you don’t end up with repetitious and guessable passwords like mikenyt, mikeicloud and mikegmail for your New York Times, Apple and Google accounts respectively.
Instead, the password manager makes up phrases like OLr9Ia7iJZgt, mz8mE;Vbnf4DVtm0 and JDYUG=mzGrSW.8j.
Better yet, it enters those passwords for you into the right web pages, so there’s no extra hassle caused by typing in weird-and-wacky text.
And a password manager can stop you putting real login data into a fake web page, because it simply doesn’t have a password to match a bogus site such as phishygmail.example.
The downside of password managers
There’s one non-trivial downside that you need to keep in mind: the password manager’s vault, whether it’s stored online or offline, is typically protected by a password of its own.
That password can’t be kept inside the vault, because you’d need to know the password anyway to get into the vault to retrieve the password.
So the master password needs to be remembered and stored in more traditional ways.
And if a crook gets hold of your master password, then that’s like getting the crown jewels – because now the crook has access to all your accounts at once.
It was therefore with some trepidation that we read a just-published security notice from popular password manager LastPass, saying that the company had found crooks inside its network.
LastPass lets you store your password vault online, so it needs some way of validating, over the network, that you know your master password.
That means it has some sort of authentication database for all its users.
And the LastPass authentication database is, apparently, one of the things that the crooks got into.
That means, amongst other things, that the crooks very likely have your email address, your password hint, and a representation of your password.
That’s the bad news.
Not all bad
But here’s the good news.
It doesn’t look as though the crooks got anything of importance more than the authentication data (e.g. no encrypted user data was accessed).
And LastPass does a good job of storing its password representations – your passwords are salted, hashed and stretched, and only ever stored in that scrambled, irreversible form.
→ Salting is where you add some random nonsense to the actual password text. So even if two users pick the same password, their password representations end up different. Hashing is where you scramble the salted password cryptographically and store the one-way scrambled version only. Stretching is where you deliberately re-run the hashing part over and over again before storing the representation, to slow an attacker down.
In November 2013, we proposed the following for storing your customers’ passwords safely:
- A process called PBKDF2 to mangle your real password into a storable representation.
- A hash called HMAC-SHA-256 as the hashing function inside PBKDF2.
- At least 10,000 iterations of the hash function for “stretching” (time-consumption) purposes.
It turns out that LastPass does just what we recommended!
Actually, it exceeds our minimum suggestion, because it uses HMAC-SHA-256 for 100,000 iterations, not just 10,000.
So, even though LastPass’s breach is a rather bad look for the company, it’s unlikely that a crook who has your password hash will be able to work through enough guesses to chance upon it any time soon – provided that you picked a proper password in the first place.
And remember that the crook only has from now until you head over to LastPass and change your master password.
Once you update your password, the old hashed representation is useless, because it no longer represents the new password.
What to do?
So we’ll echo LastPass’s advice:
- Change your LastPass password as soon as you can, making the password data stolen by the crooks of historical interest only.
- If you used the same password anywhere else, change those passwords too, and don’t share passwords again.
- Consider using two-factor authentication, where you need your password and an additional login code that changes every time.
Remember that your LastPass master password is the key to your whole castle, yet it is also a password (perhaps the only password) you need to memorise.
So it’s worth knowing a few tricks on how to pick a proper password:
→ Can’t view the video on this page? Watch directly from YouTube. Can’t hear the audio? Click on the Captions icon for closed captions.
18 comments on “Bad news! LastPass breached. Good news! You should be OK…”
oh dear. LastPass won’t let me update. crossing my fingers that this is because the site is overwhelmed with update requests!
And…. DONE! 🙂
I check my inbox and there’s still no email from LastPass regarding the security breach.
I love LastPass but they really should’ve notified their users ASAP. If not through email, at least the LastPass browser extension should’ve indicated something.
The hackers may not have gotten away password hashes that they could actually crack, but they did get my email, right? I look forward to more spam in the coming days.
They did send out emails – I had one waiting for me when I opened my email this morning. Whilst it might have been prudent to forcibly log out LastPass users, I suspect there isn’t a means for them to communicate WHY that has happened, hence emailing users informing them what the situation is and what they should do at their end.
Thanks for covering this. The email from LastPass was mostly corporate puff that did nothing to explain what really happened and how I might be effected.
Beware of “please confirm your new password” phishing emails!
I totally agree with John C., which is why you shouldn’t use the links in the notification e-mail, but login and change your master password from within the account management.
Thank you. This validates the e-mail notice I received yesterday from LastPass.
Already reset the master password with one even more difficult than my previous ones.
One thing to remind everyone about: the crooks made off with your password hints. So if your hint was, say, the password, or “my dog’s name” or anything else, those crooks are now armed with your password hint.
Best to fill the password hint field with something that would be useless to a crook, but still useful to you, like “master password stored in safety deposit box”.
Very good point. Probably should have mentioned this in the article…personally, I find password hints to be a terrible idea, because the implication is that it’s something to make it easy to remember something difficult when you get stuck. So they feel like a recipe for bad practice to me…but that might merely be me 🙂
Where they are compulsory, I just enter a space character. (Or a dot if that doesn’t work.)
Lately I started thinking “If something happens to me, what happens to all the stuff linked to all my online accounts?” The most likely scenario is that it all languishes until it eventually expires due to lack of payment or activity.
By making my password hint “check the safe deposit box”, someone who actually has access to that can still recover my master password.
Of course, in my case, they don’t actually recover a master password as I don’t use one — they recover some instructions that will make it easier for them to figure out my passwords. Most likely they wouldn’t bother for most accounts, but if there’s something my executor/etc. needs access to and I’m not there… well, at least there’s *some* method open to them.
It would have been nice if the industry had embraced PGP in the 90’s (with multiple signers on a chain), but that didn’t happen, so this is the next-best method I’ve found.
I also received an email from LastPass. I’ve been using a Yubikey with LastPass for about 3 years now. It’s small enough to fit comfortably on a key ring, goes in and out of my pocket with a bunch of other keys, and it barely has any scratches on it! Easiest 2FA method for me!
So my master password consists of 20 characters, including upper/lower case letters, numbers and special characters, with no dictionary words. Based on the way Lastpass store passwords, what’s the ‘reality’ of it actually being cracked. I hate the idea of having to change a good password that has been ingrained in my memory. Plus, I also use 2-factor authentication via Google authenticator.
You may find these articles of interest:
Anatomy of a brute force attack
Do we really need strong passwords?
unlikely as it may be still to crack a 20 char password, its recommended to change your password as you got to remember your lastpass database has all your passwords
OK, so this was inevitable obviously. Hackers are hungry for trophies like hacking a password managers server, so this is why I’ll never put my whole database online. I have it offline and synced only via my own WiFi network. For this I use Sticky Password.