LastPass: The Cloud is Public and Ephemeral

Thursday, January 5, 2023 

More or less, anytime I’m prompted, I’ll take the opportunity to say “The cloud, like its namesake, is public and ephemeral.”  In his article, “A Breach at LastPass Has Password Lessons for Us All,” Brian X. Chen comes about as close as a mainstream press reports can without poking the apple-cart of corporate golden eggs over the wall in revealing how stupid it is for anyone to put any critical data on anyone else’s hardware.

The article covers a breach at LastPass, a password management service which invites users to store their password’s on LastPass’s computers somewhere in exchange for letting LastPass keep track of every website you visit that requires a password. For reasons that are a little hard to understand, rather a lot of people thought this was an acceptable idea and entrusted their passwords to what are likely important web services to some random company and their random employees that nobody using the service has ever met or ever will without any warranty or guarantee or legal recourse at all when the inevitable happens and there’s a data breach.

I suppose they believe that because the site appears to offer a service that looks like an analog of a safety deposit box, that there’d be some meaningful security guarantee just as users of gmail seem to assume that if you use gmail your email will be in some way “secure” and “private,” despite what the CEO of google tells you.

Obviously, LastPass was hacked and, obviously, every users’s secure account list (including their OnlyFans and Grindr accounts) and password database was exposed.  This is guaranteed to happen eventually at every juicy target on the internet.  It’s just probability: an internet service is exposed to everyone on the planet with a network connection (5,569,029,076 people as of today), and every target is attacked constantly (my own Fail2Ban has blocked 2,899,324 malicious packets) and even if they’re Google, they’re not smarter than the 5B+ people who can take a shot at them any time.

The most hilarious part of this is how idiotically fragile companies make themselves by chaining various “cloud services” into their service provision: LastPass was using a Cloud-Based Backup service that was hacked.  People.. people.. that level of stupidity is unforgivable, but sadly not remotely criminal (though it should be). The risk of failure in a chained service increases exponentially with the length of the chain.  Every dependency is a humiliation.  This goes for developers too.

This breach means at least the attackers know every pr0n website millions of users have accounts on (as well as banks etc.) It isn’t clear how easily the passwords themselves will be exposed and LastPass’s technical description suggests a fairly robust encryption process which should be comforting if your master password is a completely randomly generated string of at least 12 characters you’ve managed to memorize, like n56PQZAeXSN6GBWB. If your password is some combination of dictionary words because you assumed, say, the master password was stored securely and you were only risking the password generator’s random passwords on sites (actually, not a bad strategy if you don’t then screw up security by using a commercial cloud-based password keeper that exposes your master password to global attack, but whatever), well if you did that check have i been pwned regularly for the next year and change every password you have.

The big lesson here is if you put your or your company’s data on someone else’s hardware, it isn’t your data any more it is theirs and you should assume that data is, or will soon be, public.  So do not ever put critical data of any sort on anyone else’s hardware ever.  It’s just stupid.  Don’ t do it.

If you insist on doing so because, say, you’re not an IT person but you’d still like email or you’re a small company who can’t afford to hire an IT person, or who’s CIO has cut some side deals to “cut costs” by firing the IT staff and gifting the IT budget to his buddies running some crappy servers somewhere (and for some reason you haven’t fired that CIO yet), I’d suggest you have your lawyers carefully review recourse in the event of incompetence or malice.  My personal starting point is to ask questions like the ones in this post and make sure the answers give comfort that the provider’s liability matches your risk.

What we need is a legal framework that makes every bit of user data a toxic asset. If a computer under your care has other people’s confidential data on it and that data is exposed to any parties not specifically and explicitly authorized by the person to whom the data is pertinent, you should be subject to a penalty sufficient to not just make a person who is harmed by the breach whole, but sufficient to dissuade anyone from ever taking a risk that could result in such an exposure again.

Companies who have business models that involve collecting and storing data about individuals should be required to hold liability insurance sufficient to cover all damages plus any punitive awards that might arise from mishandling or other liability.  It is reasonable to expect that such obligations would make cloud services other than fully open/exposed ones with no personal data absurdly unprofitable and end them entirely; and this would be the optimal outcome.

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LastPass: The Cloud is Public and Ephemeral
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LastPass: The Cloud is Public and Ephemeral
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Never put important data on anyone else's computer. Ever.
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Posted at 17:03:27 GMT-0700

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