40

Let's say I use a 5 word password composed of 4 words plus the name of the website I'm accessing. For example for GitHub, it would be something like "correct battery horse staple github".

How is that different to using a password manager with "correct battery horse staple github" as the master password?

I also have a simpler password for accounts I don't care about or that I suspect might be vulnerable. I assume that everyone but the major companies (Google, Facebook, GitHub, Apple) store passwords in plain text.

Am I at risk by using this approach?

  • 41
    Simply put, any recognizable pattern is worse than random. – l0b0 Apr 26 at 22:27
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    Having the pattern include the site name seems like an obvious weakness, and a big clue to a potential attacker that there is a pattern. – Peter Cordes Apr 26 at 22:27
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    "slightly" is really the keyword in this question. Yes, obviously, that's only slightly better than using the exact same password everywhere. – Luc Apr 27 at 9:19
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    How is that different to using a password manager with "correct battery horse staple github" as the master password? If you mean not from an algorithmic point of view but from a practical risk point of view, the first difference that comes to my mind is that the likelihood that someone tries to hack Google, Facebook, GitHub, Apple login and makes guesses about your weak password is way greater than the likelihood that someone tries to hack your password manager. – SantiBailors Apr 27 at 19:42
  • The problem is you would be able to remember those passwords. Any password you can remember is insecure. Like L0b0 says. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 28 at 18:35
89

Yes, decent password managers are more secure than using any password pattern.

  • You have a password manager, and it has created you random passwords:

    1. 6AKQ3)mcV!xX3b8-ZgncCe%tdn!&.@3X
    2. a6/4TFaWKrzTHQyT2Df#;/*+QA$zH2tJ
    3. 9y__&%7jP4UcuG(9f7X6z44C#64bF:m&
    4. 9W649r788_8AU=9272zuGH"=C?2&C66j
    5. nT29HMc$y'H)ww2#D/2x(2sBU#WG23us
  • Versus you have a pattern for your passwords:

    1. correctbatteryhorsestaplegithub
    2. correctbatteryhorsestaplestackexchange
    3. correctbatteryhorsestaplegooogle
    4. correctbatteryhorsestaplesomesite
    5. correctbatteryhorsestapleapple

The site #4 has a bad practice of saving passwords in plain text, and their password database leaks. Now, from the latter it's possible to assume that this is a password pattern you use and deduce you might have correctbatteryhorsestaplegithub as your password for GitHub etc., but from the random password it's impossible to deduce the other random passwords, as they are completely unrelated.

On the other hand, if your computer gets infected and someone steals both your password manager database and the password (e.g. using a keylogger), they have keys to the kingdom. That's a completely different risk model and requires access to the operating system the password manager is installed on. Against this you need other measures like multi-factor authentication.

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  • 12
    It's extremely improbable that an individual Google employee could see your password. It would require that they manage to sneak their password-stealing code into the Google Authorization codebase and get it to production without anyone noticing and raising an alarm, which would require cooperation from other employees or a company-wide conspiracy. – Moyli Apr 26 at 12:20
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    Some password managers (like KeePass) allow you to have a composite authentication token using a key file and a password. In which case, you'd also need to steal the key in addition to the password and database. – Celos Apr 27 at 13:09
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    Does anyone have stats on how "often" (assuming not) any of these password managers have been hacked/exposed user data? To me that's the only possibility of it being less secure, and even with the thousands of passwords to many users EVERYTHING tantalizing hackers, I don't hear of these cases. JW – TCooper Apr 27 at 18:10
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    This answer could be improved by saying why the risk in password managers is less severe than the risk in using a repeated password. One might assume that an attack on password managers would be easy to automate and is already being distributed via malware, but an attack on repeated patterns (such as using correcthorsebatterystapleg1ithub and ...s1tackexchange etc.) would require someone to manually look at the passwords. – JiK Apr 28 at 11:09
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    @Métoule: Well, it's not hard to grep somesite from the list and find users that uses the service name as part of their passwords, so it doesn't require spending time, but is rather easy to automate. For instance, the rockyou.txt contains rockyou 4070 times. – Esa Jokinen Apr 28 at 14:27
10

Microsoft have done some interesting research into the idea you mention of having a weak password for sites that you don't care about, and conclude that it is a valid strategy.

However, I'd argue that one advantage of a password manager is that you do not have to expend any mental effort working out which sites you don't care about, and more importantly you can't make a mis-classification. If you're using a password manager, its the same number of clicks to have it paste in "password" as "District solid complete warlord cheese".

(By the way, I've found that it is better to use five random words than 30 random characters when generating passwords with my password manager. Sooner or later you will get into a situation where you have to type it into a computer that doesn't have the password manager agent installed.)

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4

Using a formulaic password generation method rather than random ones in a password manager changes your threat model.

With a password manager the main threat is that your master password will be discovered. For most people, working with a limited number of trusted devices, this is a low likelihood. However, if you are regularly required to login to a range of services from many different, potentially untrusted devices, (e.g. travelling and using internet cafes or as a field engineer) then you threat model can change significantly.

With a formulaic password generation mechanism your threat is that the formula is exposed. For a non-trivial formula, that's likely to require human intervention and/or multiple plaintext passwords being available. It is inherently weaker since the passwords can be cracked, but you're vulnerable to a different type of threat, which is likely a more targeted attack.

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  • 1
    This basically repeats the accepted answer. Did you intend to offer a unique perspective? – schroeder Apr 28 at 12:56
  • To me it sounded different as the focus of the first answer was on the security of the passwords themselves rather than on the model of the threat, but reading back I can see the the model of the threat is mentioned in the last line. If you think that seems enough like a duplicate I'll happily delete this answer – David258 Apr 28 at 13:05
-5

Password manager is software, and all software is potentially vulnerable, given relative effort. A password manager is also one-for-many, means someone may spent enough effort to steal information because the gains will be multiple from many users.

Human logic pattern is more safe in my opinion as long as it is not obvious. My standard password plus site name is still a pattern choice but a very poor one. Smarter choices will allow you for non-recognizable texts without reveal the pattern easily:

Socials:

  • github = bmyMagic&458_ghkg
  • exchange = emyMagic&458_ghke
  • gooogle = emyMagic&458_ghkg
  • facebook = kmyMagic&458_ghkf

Manysites:

  • arandomsite = 23@ar_goeasy
  • justasite = 23@ju_goeasy
  • somestoreibuystuff = 23@so_goeasy
  • apple = 23@ap_goeasy

Importants:

  • bank = gJc$k49k&ci4j65_4l@l@
  • financeforme = gJg$f49f&gi4j65_12l@l@

I separate logins to 3 categories, Low, medium and high risk (many sites, social and banks-emails).

For the medium risk, I used standard myMagic&458_ghk, then add the first letter of the site to the end and the last to the start.

For low risk, I use another standard the 23@_goeasy and add the first 2 letters after @.

For high risk I used the standard gJ$49&i4j65_l@l@. Then I take first and last letter of site and add one letter. So for bank I get b and k and make them c and l. Then I put those letters before and after $ and &; but for & I put last before and first after. Finally I add the length of the site name after _

Seems complicated but it is not really much if you get used to. Just keep a hard copy on a paper about your 'encryption'. Also make sure you clearly categorize your logins so to know what formula to use to each. You can also categorize differently, like split letters to 3 parts and choose category by 1st letter.

No matter what, you remember method and not password and if one password is compromised no other accounts are vulnerable, likely.

This way you can always 'remember' an unlimited number of different passwords and login anywhere after ... years! You can also create new accounts without have to invent a new password each time, or use a standard one to remember.

Plus your passwords are never stored anywhere into the your device, as you can select 'No' to all automatic password saves. This is very safe. This limits hacking to keystrokes or clipboard readers only.

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    No, human logic is not safer. There is software specifically designed to guess passwords with such "patterns" - once one of the passwords is known, the others are not safe any more. – averell Apr 27 at 15:52
  • Now i am reading my answer i realize that this example formulas i used are far better than my actual ones which are somewhat ... 8 years old!!! – Stefanos Zilellis Apr 27 at 15:52
  • averell there is, but where is he going to get the passwords from if they are not stored anywhere on the device? Getting from key loggers or clipboard loggers, how many can be collected? A good sample is needed to analyze patterns - and not only the possible password but the usage spot (the page) as well. So we talk for a large set of pages visited, keystrokes and clipboard data, all with date-times, and ... good luck. Imagine that just 1 mistake and the pattern algorithm will discover nothing good. As a programmer i found it easier to crack a software having all passwords from many people. – Stefanos Zilellis Apr 27 at 16:03
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    The point is that you re-used most of your password. If I just get one of them from a compromised site I can use that to brute-force permutations. If just one becomes publicly know, it will be used as a starting point for hackers that attack other hashed passwords. No keylogger or access to your system is even needed. And if I bother to install a keylogger, it would take maybe two or three samples to figure out your whole "system" and then I have all your passwords. – averell Apr 27 at 16:34
  • Please, just get a password manager. Yes, it's potentially vulnerable, but far less vulnerable than any password scheme that you or I could think up. – pcdev Apr 28 at 3:13

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