Passwords in a file

My dad is on some sort of committee for his local home owners association. He asked about saving all the passwords in a file stored on Microsoft’s cloud OneDrive, along with policy/procedures for the association. I assumed he called because I’m an internationally recognized cyberexpert. Or maybe he just wanted to chat with me*. Anyway, I thought I’d write up a response.

The most important rule of cybersecurity is that it depends upon the risks/costs. That means if what you want to do is write down the procedures for operating a garden pump, including the passwords, then that’s fine. This is because there’s not much danger of hackers exploiting this. On the other hand, if the question is passwords for the association’s bank account, then DON’T DO THIS. Such passwords should never be online. Instead, write them down and store the pieces of paper in a secure place.

OneDrive is secure, as much as anything is. The problem is that people aren’t secure. There’s probably one member of the home owner’s association who is constantly infecting themselves with viruses or falling victim to scams. This is the person who you are giving OneDrive access to. This is fine for the meaningless passwords, but very much not fine for bank accounts.

OneDrive also has some useful backup features. Thus, when one of your members infects themselves with ransomware, which will encrypt all the OneDrive’s contents, you can retrieve the old versions of the documents. I highly recommend groups like the home owner’s association use OneDrive. I use it as part of my Office 365 subscription for $99/year.

Just don’t do this for banking passwords. In fact, not only should you not store such a password online, you should strongly consider getting “two factor authentication” setup for the account. This is a system where you need an additional hardware device/token in addition to a password (in some cases, your phone can be used as the additional device). This may not work if multiple people need to access a common account, but then, you should have multiple passwords, for each individual, in such cases. Your bank should have descriptions of how to set this up. If your bank doesn’t offer two factor authentication for its websites, then you really need to switch banks.

For individuals, write your passwords down on paper. For elderly parents, write down a copy and give it to your kids. It should go without saying: store that paper in a safe place, ideally a safe, not a post-it note glued to your monitor. Again, this is for your important passwords, like for bank accounts and e-mail. For your Spotify or Pandora accounts (music services), then security really doesn’t matter.

Lastly, the way hackers most often break into things like bank accounts is because people use the same password everywhere. When one site gets hacked, those passwords are then used to hack accounts on other websites. Thus, for important accounts, don’t reuse passwords, make them unique for just that account. Since you can’t remember unique passwords for every account, write them down.

You can check if your password has been hacked this way by checking http://haveibeenpwned.com and entering your email address. Entering my dad’s email address, I find that his accounts at Adobe, LinkedIn, and Disqus has been discovered by hackers (due to hacks of those websites) and published. I sure hope whatever these passwords were that they are not the same or similar to his passwords for GMail or his bank account.


* the lame joke at the top was my dad’s, so don’t blame me 🙂


*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Errata Security authored by Robert Graham. Read the original post at: https://blog.erratasec.com/2019/01/passwords-in-file.html