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The Uncomfortable Implications of the LastPass Attack

Several weeks ago, one of my news feeds served me an article about how people continue to pick the very worst passwords possible: everything from ABC123 to their own first and last name. Considering how easy it is for hackers to guess, buy, or break passwords, the bar for picking strong passwords is getting higher than ever – meaning the difference between bad and very bad passwords is non-existent.

Password strength wasn’t what was interesting about this article. What stuck out for me was how persistent the password problem has been – years of training, explaining, pleading, and sometimes even incentivizing haven’t done much to get people to use stronger passwords.

A password manager like LastPass was supposed to be the solution. It offered a streamlined way to turn every password into a strong password, enter the login details automatically, and keep everything safe inside an encrypted vault. LastPass seemed like a win-win: stronger security plus streamlined access. But then we learned through a story that’s been unfolding in recent weeks that attackers managed to steal some of those vaults. And if they manage to crack them open, they will have access to the login credentials for many thousands of personal accounts.

I had originally planned to write about the LastPass attack as a sign that passwords are on their last legs and woefully in need of replacement. But I think most people held that opinion even before the LastPass attack. What’s more, alternatives to passwords have never been more numerous or viable, so I’m confident the era of password protection is coming to a close (whether or not I write about it).

Something besides the password angle stood out to me as I read more about the LastPass attack. Specifically, I was struck by how much LastPass bungled things at every turn, first with their own security, and then with their response to the attack. The problem was not passwords (they were the victim, really). Rather, the problem was LastPass, which promised to protect passwords and then failed at the one thing it was supposed to excel at.

Which leads to an uncomfortable but unavoidable line of inquiry: What other protections are less secure than they seem? Have other vendors made promises that they can’t or won’t honor? Is there any way to know for sure whether you’re as safe as you think? Can anyone really count on cybersecurity?

Vendors are a Weaker Link Than You Think

There has been growing awareness that the IT products a company uses could get weaponized as part of supply chain attacks, which have received a lot of attention lately. And while companies understand that some vendors are stronger than others and some products are weaker than alternatives, we tend to see any protection as better than nothing. The LastPass attack reveals that’s a dangerous line of reasoning.

Reports suggest that security standards and practices at LastPass have been slipping for years, but the extent of that was not apparent until the attack (plus another attack 6 months prior) forced the company to make disclosures. Effectively, the company spent years cultivating trust, then used its positive reputation to let security slide without people noticing.

If it can happen at LastPass, it can conceivably happen anywhere. And with the pandemic and its aftereffects putting so many companies through internal turmoil, who knows where else has become a shell of its former self, waiting for an attack to expose formidable security measures as brittle defenses. And if it can happen to something as fundamental to security as a password vault (the crown jewels for attackers), logically any asset could currently be exposed because of the potentially bogus defenses around it.

If that sounds hyperbolic, take a quick mental review of the security stack. Can you be confident that all of the vendors included therein are taking security as seriously as necessary, particularly when it may conflict with the bottom line? My point is that strong defenses can turn into weak ones without anyone noticing.

Of course, SLAs and other contractual obligations can help mitigate this. But even with those obligations in place, sometimes companies go south – suddenly, swiftly, and surprisingly. And when they are involved with cybersecurity, users often get caught up in the collapse.

The possibility that you’ve surrounded yourself with paper tigers is certainly a frightening thought. But, I must admit, it’s remote (LastPass is an outlier). And there’s a silver lining: it takes less time to vet and review vendors than it does to detect and respond to threats.

#Cybersecurity #Authentication #LastPass #Vendor #Password

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