[Chandler-dev] On encrypting passwords

Heikki Toivonen heikki at osafoundation.org
Tue Feb 20 15:33:58 PST 2007

Chandler has the ability to remember passwords, and many high profile
programs (e.g. Firefox) that have this ability can encrypt these passwords.

Doing encryption/decryption like this traditionally requires the user to
set a master password. The master password is never stored on disk, it
will be asked from the user on demand, and may be remembered in memory
until program shutdown or timeout.

I think we need to provide some level of encryption support in Preview
timeframe. For example, I think our users should be able to submit their
repositories to us for debugging purposes without us learning their

Do we want to default to requiring a master password to encrypt and
decrypt the other passwords?

Or do we start unencrypted, offer a "encrypt" checkbox in the accounts
dialog, and also when making a repository backup/dump? (I think I am
slightly in favor of this.)

Do we want to provide encrypting arbitrary items/attributes? (I wouldn't
worry about this until after Preview.)

Do we want to protect the passwords in memory? I must point out that
this would be quite a bit of work, and it is not certain we could even
cover all cases (passing password strings into libraries we may not have
control over, for example). This would involve things like: clear out
master password on timeout, never store the other passwords in clear
text except for the moment when they are needed, zero out the actual
bits in memory once done, prevent password memory from being swapped
out, etc. (I wouldn't worry about passwords in memory myself.)

Please note that Chandler already supports encrypting the entire
repository. An alternative on some operating systems is to ask the OS to
encrypt the disk/directory where the repository is.

Another thing to note is that many OSes provide password safes of their
own with naturally platform specific APIs. I am not suggesting we try to
hook up with these in Preview timeframe.

Reply-to set to design.

  Heikki Toivonen

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