ElcomSoft's Password Manager Shakedown

2012-03-16 16:29:51 -0400

During the third day of the BlackHatEU conference, Andrey Belenko and Dmitry Sklyarov of ElcomSoft presented an impressive analysis of iOS and Blackberry password managers entitled “Secure Password Managers” and “Military-Grade Encryption” on Smartphones: Oh, Really?.

The results are shocking: of the 17 password management programs analyzed, they showed that most of the products, including many of today's most popular password managers, are either:

  • storing data in an unencrypted format, 
  • "encrypted so poorly that they can be recovered instantly"; or 
  • susceptible to basic cracking techniques (i.e. rainbow tables)

The sole exception in the study was our own password manager, Strip, backed by SQLCipher.

The presenters noted that Strip, using an encryption key derived through 4,000 iterations of PBKDF2-SHA1 was "by far the most resiliant app to password cracking" and appeared to be the only application that properly implemented strong cryptography. We're pleased that ElcomSoft found Strip to be a solid implementation, and that it was noted as the most secure App during the presentation.  

It's important to note, however, that the detailed cracking analysis found in their white paper provides an excellent demonstration of the need to use a secure master password. Given the enormous power of today's CPU and GPUs it is possible to attempt an attack on a weak passphrase, even though key derivation protects against rainbow tables and slows down brute force searches. ElcomSoft's estimations show that using a powerful GPU it would be possible to try every combination numeric passwords in a short period of time. 

Keeping that in mind, Strip's security really comes down to the security of your passphrase. Use a long alphanumeric passphrase with a combination of upper case, lowercase, digits, and metacharacters. For comparison, the calculations presented in the ElcomSoft paper yield that an 8 character random ASCII password for Strip and SQLCipher would take an estimated 1,315 years to crack.

If you're interested in reading more about the types of attacks and security issues with these sorts of application's please check out the excellent source presentation and whitepaper. Likewise, if you're interested in moving to a mobile password manager with a higher level of security than the rest, you should take a look at Strip.

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