ALL of us use passwords and some people need more than others, but there comes a point when our brains risk a physical overload with the sheer number of secret codes and keys we require on a daily basis.
One of the biggest challenges we face is memorising complex passwords, as recommended by computer and software manufacturers.
That is where password managers come in – they store your codes cryptographically, with access only granted when the user enters a master password. So, your passwords are stored organised for your websites, computers and applications.
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Manufacturers have often advertised them as offering “bank-level” or “military-grade” security and experts have recommended them. Dashlane is the most popular, but other frequently used programs are Avast Passwords, F-Secure Key Password Manager, My Passwords and LastPass. However, a new report has revealed that some of the most popular password managers themselves can be vulnerable and can expose your credentials to prying eyes.
Security experts from TeamSIK, at the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology in Germany, reported that nine of the most popular password managers for Android available on Google Play are open to one or more security vulnerabilities.
They examined Avast, Dashlane, F-Secure Key, LastPass, Keeper, 1Password, My Passwords, Informaticore’s Password Manager and Keepsafe – each of which has been installed between 100,000 and 50 million times.
TeamSIK said: “The overall results were extremely worrying and revealed that password manager applications, despite their claims, do not provide enough protection mechanisms for the stored passwords and credentials.”
They discovered a total of 26 vulnerabilities, one or more in each programme, but these were all reported to the various manufacturers – who issued fixes before the report went public.
“We found several implementation flaws resulting in serious security vulnerabilities,” said the team.
“Some applications stored the entered master password in plain text or implemented hard-coded crypto keys in the programme code. Consequently, attackers can easily circumvent the crypto algorithm altogether and thereby gain access to all of the user’s data.”
This flaw was classed as “high severity” and was noted on Informaticore’s Password Manager. A similar bug was found in LastPass.
“In other cases, we could simply access all ‘securely protected passwords/credentials’ with the help of an additional app,” said TeamSIK.
“Once installed on the device, this malicious app extracts all passwords/credentials in plain text and sends them to the attacker.”
The research team also found that auto-fill functions in most password manager apps could be abused to steal stored secrets through “hidden phishing” attacks.
TeamSIK said any attacker could have exploited many of the flaws they found without resorting to the need for root permissions – the method of gaining administrative privileges on a system.
“In most of the cases, no root permissions were required for a successful attack that gave us access to sensitive information such as the master password,” said the team.
“Furthermore, many of the apps completely ignore the problem of clipboard sniffing, meaning that there is no clean-up of the clipboard after credentials have been copied into it.”
Manufacturers say they have addressed all the flaws raised in the TeamSIK report, but they are urging users to update their password manager apps as soon as they can, as hackers now have all the information they need to exploit the flawed previous versions.