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With all of the crazy outages and hacking going on in the digital world over the past week or two, the fact that LastPass has an issue (as of May 3rd), probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, it is a bit of a shock to the system to be reminded that the “last password you’ll have to remember” is potentially as vulnerable as any other. Before panic sets in among LastPass users (of which I am one), know that the company is on it, and that those with strong, non-dictionary based passwords should be fine in any case. LastPass also admits that they may even be overreacting, but prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to keeping your data safe — a policy that I am 100% behind.
Without getting into the technical aspects behind it all, what basically happened is that LastPass discovered at least two network traffic anomalies in their systems that they couldn’t explain. One occurred in a “non-critical machine” and the other came from one of their databases. The second matched with the first and involved information exiting the LastPass environment. The company reported in their blog post that the outgoing amount of data was large enough to have contained email addresses, password hashes, and “server salt,” but not enough to have “pulled many users’ encrypted data blobs.”
While LastPass doesn’t feel that the issue is a large one, they recognize the potential for brute force hacking on the passwords of any users that may have been compromised. This is most likely to affect those who have a master password that is lacking in strength and/or dictionary-based, which is still incredibly common, even today. To protect the integrity of their systems, and their users’ data, LastPass is requiring all users to change their master password. They are also looking for email validation from you if you happen to be logging in from an IP address that is outside your usual set. This is an added security measure, just in case your password does get compromised before it is changed.
Don’t rush off and change your password right away, however. The sheer volume of password change requests is slowing down LastPass as a whole, which is causing server connectivity problems across the board. The company has beefed up the email verification protection as a result, and are confident that there should be little risk in waiting a day or two before changing your master password. You will have to do it eventually, however.
Creating a Strong – But Easy to Remember – Password
When you do change your password, strength should be your primary focus — but there is no reason you have to put together something that is impossible for you to remember. That may seem a bold statement, considering that strong passwords need to have combinations of numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters — and should avoid dictionary words — but a great post by Gina Trapani (Lifehacker) back in 2006 essentially solves that problem.
Gina advises that you use a single rule set as the basis for all of your passwords. You start with a base password that you create from something like a favourite acronym, letter/number combination, or nonsense word that you will never forget. Pad that with some symbols for extra safety, if you want, and store it somewhere offline, just in case you forget it. Once the base of the password is set, the rest comes as a result of the service you are signing up for.
For example, you could set your base password using your initials (including middle) or even your favourite pet’s initials, combined with your favourite number. In this case, you are the proud owner of Fluffy Cattington, and have a love for the number 86. Your base password could be something like FC86, or FfyCt86, etc. Add a few things to that for extra strength and you could have this: &*FfyCt86!, or #(FC86)^^. Already, we are well on our way to a secure password.
The next step is to add a standard code for the service you are using. Initials or the first few letters of the service name are good here as well. If this were to be your LastPass master password, for example, you could have something like this: &*FfyCt86!LP, or #(FC86)^^Las. Just try to make sure your password is at least eight characters long and that you are using numbers and letters. Using symbols and uppercase/lowercase letters is even better, but not all services will allow this in their passwords, so you may have to adjust for that. LastPass does, so no worries there.
Check out the Lifehacker post for even more ideas on how to choose your base password.
If you are interested in alternatives to LastPass, check out Evan’s post on eWallet vs Keypass vs LastPass. I like LastPass, though, and am pleased by the lengths they go through to protect their service and users. Evan also makes a great case for LastPass here.
What are your thoughts on choosing and remembering strong passwords?