Law in the Internet Society

How I Enslaved Myself With Google's Passwords Manager

-- By MotazArshied - 07 Oct 2019

Second Draft

That Night Google Convinced Me to Register for this Course

Passwords manager was introduced to help generating and retrieving our passwords, usually by storing those passwords in an encrypted database. If you use Google Chrome's passwords manager, as I shamefully do, then the method your passwords are being saved by Chrome is depending on whether you want to store and use them across devices. Turns out this is exactly how I systematically acted without understanding the potential repercussions.

After arriving in Manhattan Island, and just before the beginning of fall term, I decided to purchase my first ever MacBook. So, I went on to visit that famous glass cubicle building near Lincoln Center and when I returned home, with a heavy bag and a much lighter pocket, I started setting up my new device.

One of the first actions I took was to install Google Chrome browser and log onto my Google account, while preparing myself for the exhausting process of re-log onto all of my other accounts (social media, student account, governmental and professional services, financial and etc.). It is sufficed to say that many of those accounts contain sensitive information, but Google went on anyway and automatically retrieved all of my passwords for those accounts, one after the other, re-entering all of my information instantly. The morning after I registered for this course.

Explaining Password Manager

"A password should contain at least one letter, one number, one special character..." and on and on it goes! We all been through it and it seems like the majority of us have created endless variations of personal passwords. Seeking to remedy this complex, inconvenient nowadays-reality situation, a software was created and called passwords manager, which relies on its users to store their credentials and sensitive information, to be retrieved later on when needed. Basically, it requires the user to remember "only" one master password in order to decrypt the passwords manager database. The passwords manager stores full URLs next to the stored passwords and it does not log on automatically to those browsers, presumably in sake of creating another safety layer.

The Risks I Have Entered Myself Into

According to Chrome's latest extension in the respect of passwords, Passwords Checkup, my password manager stores information of 68 different sites: 53 of these passwords are reused, 23 of these accounts are using weak passwords and there are no compromised passwords. It is pretty shameful. However, people assume that provided with this information a user can be reassured of his safety.

However theoretically, as a result of the master password concept of passwords manager, if the database is insecure, then all the "advantages" that comes with it are wasted. Therefore, in order to understand whether a risk exist, and the magnitude of it, one needs to familiarize himself with the tech behind Google’s password manager.

Untrue to their own claim that passwords manager stores the info in Google's servers, Chrome actually stores this info in SQLite database file in the user profile directory. SQLite database is a self-contained, server-less, zero-configuration, transactional SQL database engine and its code is in the public domain and is thus free for use for any purpose, commercial or private. The database does not contain the decryption key for the passwords in it, for the passwords are stored in encrypted form, thus creating an obstacle for one who tries to hack the database in search of passwords.

With that being described, this idea of convenience that I unreluctantly enslaved myself for has surely created my exposure to not only my private emails, conversations, files and etc., but also my very own property, especially my financial assets (e.g. my online banking password).

Currently, these financial assets surround around my tuition payment and as a scholarship sponsored student, who's in charge of utilizing the sum granted towards academic-financial obligations, I am terrified. What will happen if one day the machine will refuse my login? What will happen if it refuses my login on a holiday time, with no other services than online ones? Clearly, these questions intensify in problematic scenarios of banking fraud or unauthorized withdraws.

Not less importantly, I have risked my own human control of my very own interests, connections, achievements and life through the instrument of the web. This conclusion led me to ask a final question: how do I take control back? In other, more subjective words, how could I redefine "convenience"?

Reflecting Upon My Indifferent Behavior

Second Thoughts

As can be inferred from the above, I have been contemplating with this idea and theme for a while. However, unlike the previous sections, this part was rather unclear for me to write - until our latest lecture when Prof. Moglen analogized nowadays and futuristic technology's convenience as "stuff our mothers used to do for us". Applying this idea here was natural for me: obviously my mother used to systematically remind me of important matters in my daily life, just as important as my current passwords and in the same systematic manner passwords manager does. Therefore, in the spirit of reminiscing of simpler times, I began second thinking.

The first-second thought I had was copying passwords manager's information, before permanently deleting it, to a notebook or other non-web connected instrument that I usually carry with me, such as a calendar or a notebook. There is the clear disadvantage of losing the digital comfort however I believe that overtime it will transform into a satisfying feeling of regaining human control.

The second-second thought I had was to disconnect from most of these platforms entirely. While contemplating over this thought I reckoned that the disconnection will have negative outcomes, especially on the social side. These outcomes can be avoided if I recreate my important passwords by using practices that will improve my security. For example, customizing my password with common letters, acronyms and elements (for example, instead of “MyPassword” one can write “My_Pa$$wrd”). These simple techniques can solve my passwords dilemma and render me some serenity in the chaos of the technology era.

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r12 - 15 Jan 2020 - 19:55:23 - MotazArshied
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