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The strong password, the breach, and the multi-factor save

Wall Of Passwords

I performed my period audit of my accounts. And, to my surprise, I found the password for my rubygems was in the breach corpus. The 2nd-factor caught the save, but… the password was generated via pwgen 12 (so it looked like aibeaNongoo0 ). I think you will agree that was not guessed somehow. So, on this topic, when was the last time you opened chrome://settings/passwords/check?start=true and checked your accounts for safety? Well, read the next couple of paragraphs and then go to it.

There’s a spectrum of password strength. One the one end, some people use something guessable (a pet, a birthday), and, they re-use the password on many (all?) sites.

Next we have those who have a strong(ish) password, but reuse that across multiple sites.

And then we have the strongest password approach: every site gets its own password, and they are strongly generated. This necessitates a password manager (I use KDE Wallet, which stores in my GPG keyring).

Layered on top of this is a multi-factor strategy. Interestingly, it dramatically imrpoves all three strategies. The breach of the bad password does not have your 2nd-factor code generator in it. These end up being uncorrelated risks, and the combination is very strong.

However, this is becoming very tedious. Over the years one accumulates hundreds of online accounts. Some merchants force one to buy a single product. A few forums here and there, suddenly you have two or three hundred accounts to audit. Changing the password across them is no mean feat.

So what is the solution? My very strong password was breached on a single site, saved only by the 2nd factor. Well, in my opinion, the answer is to remove the password. That’s right. Rather than make it 16 characters long, I want to go to 0. Use a single common identity provider, via OpenID Connect. Secure that appropriately (strong password + 2nd-factor). And force each and every web site I use to accept it for authentication (without sharing the password).

OK, gentle reader, now your homework. Open chrome://settings/passwords/check?start=true. Check yourself out on In your browser, in the saved passwords, if it flags any, fix it. That means going to the web site in question, and changing the password to a new single-use one, and enabling multi-factor authentication if available.

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