I want to protect my passwords for free and store them on a machine that might get stolen but have the passwords very securely backed-up in the cloud, again for free, and minimize the total lifetime inconvenience of password management system changes and minimize the risk of transcription errors that might result from porting.

Some systems deviate from the usual 2-tuple access allowed by a user name and password. For example, for some systems I would store a 3-tuple because an email address may be allowed as an alternate user name. Others have a 4-tuple to allow for a password hint and secondary password. The diversity of systems has me preferring that the password file be free-format text.

My solution has been to cut-and-paste my free-format text file into CryptoTE and then encrypt the file using my ubuntu user password and upload the encrypted file to Google Drive (manually). My criteria are satisfied because

  • CryptoTE is free for personal use
  • Google Drive is free and uploads via SSL
  • Google Account has a 2 step authentication that allows a level of security that I feel is very secure and yet still has convenient recovery protection
  • Google is too large for it's business plan with respect to Drive to be often disrupted in a lifetime. It is certainly going to be larger than any pure-play password protection company for a long time.
  • CryptoTE has a free-format text GUI that is devoid of formatting that might cause the contents to be hard to port
  • I can migrate from a free-format linux text file to CryptoTE via a cut-and-paste
  • I can migrate from CryptoTE via a cut-and-paste if that is ever going to be necessary because of the introduction of features that I might forget to eschew
  • in the event I might someday use Windows on a daily basis, I can migrate using 'todos', or migrate back using 'frodos', and be comfortable because both line delimiting standards are decades old and likely to persist. (This step is probably unnecessary if CryptoTE for Windows exists, but why be married to CryptoTE if you don't have to be.)
  • unlike some encrypting text editors CryptoTE does not leave un-encrypted temp files somewhere on the drive

Other than 1 - using a file password that is not the same as my ubuntu password, and 2 - obtaining and maintaining (or freezing) my own source code that does what CryptoTE does, and 3 - remembering to upload, what should I do to make this more secure or better in any aspect, while still meeting my criteria?

Issue 1 is not a big deal because I can just use a good password for my CryptoTE file.

Issue 3 is not a big deal because the probability of a computer being stolen is low. If a computer is stolen the worst case is that a cloud backup is one or two versions old if I forgot to upload the latest.

Issue 2 is the only one that worries me, however this is not a prohibitive issue. It will not be a worry at all with a little one time effort.

I note that Google Drive has an ugly user interface that might have the user accidentally sharing files but the interface might get better with time, and in the meanwhile, at least it is CryptoTE protected.

3 Answers 3


Compared to a typical password manager, the use of a simple text file has the following disadvantages:

  • Vulnerable to shoulder surfing. The content of a plain text file will be completely visible to anyone around you. While you scroll the file and copy-paste the relevant information for login, other people around you (either advanced attackers with recording devices or just ordinary nosy colleagues) will be able to see the passwords. Password managers don't display passwords by default, and you can copy-paste them (or use autotype or autocomplete) without ever seeing any sensitive data.
  • Doesn't have features that could sometimes mitigate some risks or be useful in other ways. Password managers often have auto-complete features that allow you to auto-type passwords only if the URL is as expected, and that can mitigate the risks of phishing (if the form isn't on the right page, you will notice that autocomplete won't work). Password managers also might have generators that help you create new random passwords, or might have ways to manage password expiration, or might have features that allow you to share passwords with other people without sending them (only in online password managers).

You should not be too worried about portability in the long term, as long as you keep backups and migrate or convert data if it is ever needed. You use passwords every day, it's not like something that will be sitting there for several years and might cause unexpected problems when you find out that "oops, this format stopped being supported years ago". If I'm not mistaken, KeePass version 2 does not use the old KDB format used by version 1 anymore, but that format can be imported. So it's not like a popular format will die all of a sudden. If you want to be safer, you will also be usually able to export to formats like XML or CSV that you can keep (encrypted) for backup.

  • I am not worried that an application will cease to support it's own old formats. The actual worry is that one application's XML will not port another another application's XML generally. For example if the field is "ID" it will not port "identifier" and likewise "password" is incompatible with "Password".
    – H2ONaCl
    May 25, 2019 at 5:55

Might be well worth the effort to have a look at KeePass Password Safe, an offline password manager. I use it and am very happy with it.

Perhaps also check out Wuala, a cloud data storage service similar to Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. Wuala is different because it encrypts your data locally before storing it on their servers (Wuala only stores your data in its encrypted form; your unencrypted data remains invisble to them).

Wuala's servers are not located in the USA, so the USA government can't order them hand over the stored data. Something I considered an important advantage over Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, et. al.

  • 1
    +1 For KeePass. It can meet all your requirements if you pair it with a zero-knowledge cloud storage service. As for migrating to a different password manager - I've been using it for 7+ years, and don't see that changing anytime soon. Apr 11, 2014 at 19:08
  • 1
    I edited my answer with some info about Wuala, a web storage service which only stores your data in encrypted form and doesn't store it in the USA. Apr 11, 2014 at 19:12
  • If KeePass is offline, then it doesn't satisfy the cloud criterion.
    – H2ONaCl
    Apr 11, 2014 at 19:13
  • 1
    KeePass is offline. It stores your passwords, among other things (in fact it can store any type of data), in a AES-256 encrypted database. Where this file is located on the file system is entirely up to the user. For instance, you can easily place this single file in a directory that's synced to a cloud file storage service. Apr 11, 2014 at 19:16
  • 1
    Not sure what you mean with free-format text, but every "password entry" can store user name, password, URL, and various types of metadata, and in addition an unlimited number of entries, where each one can either be free-format text (key-value pair of free-format strings) or an attached file. KeePass can then access these parameters when doing auto-type. Apr 11, 2014 at 19:23

I hesitate to give this as an answer instead of a comment, but two other downsides to your system which I have not seen mentioned are:

  1. Mobile support. Most "real" password managers have an app available on Android or iOS to give you password access on the go.
  2. Clipboard access is very insecure. It is far easier to get a clipboard sniffer on a system than a keyboard logger. On mobile, as a general rule, any app at all can read the clipboard content. On desktop, you need to deal with clipboard history services, etc. that capture your clipboard and save historical entries unencrypted somewhere. "Real" password managers have autofill in browsers or even autotype to emulate keyboard input without ever touching the clipboard, and in addition can automatically clear clipboard content for you if you choose to use it anyway.
  • having a mobile app is a convenience and not a security aspect to the scheme - the point is not to have a password manager that rivals commercial options.
    – schroeder
    May 22, 2019 at 14:22
  • How do commercial password managers transfer passwords from their store and into login mechanisms? KeePass requires you to copy/paste... It would be trivial to add in a clipboard clearing process in the scheme without the scheme being insecure.
    – schroeder
    May 22, 2019 at 14:24
  • "keepass requires you to copy/paste" no it certainly does not! There are multiple builtin autotype options to mimic keyboard input, drag and drop support for individual fields, plus some browser extensions to insert directly into the fields if you'd rather do that. None of these use the clipboard.
    – Ben
    May 23, 2019 at 0:47
  • "having a mobile app is a convenience and not a security aspect to the scheme" right up until you need to log into a computer without the required software for your encrypted text file, or even your phone itself, without access to your normal computer. Then you must either have your passwords on your phone or have it memorized. Either could easily make your passwords less secure.
    – Ben
    May 23, 2019 at 0:50
  • Clipboard security is a valuable point. However, the porting will happen seldom if ever in a human lifespan so the clipboard will seldom be used. The point is to try to have a system where no porting is required in a human lifespan.
    – H2ONaCl
    May 25, 2019 at 5:44

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