Nynim.org

Tony Duckles on programming, photography, and general geekery

Maintaining Online Identities

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I stumbled across this neat site called Clipperz a few weeks back. On the surface, it's “a free and anonymous online password manager”. This was immediately interesting to me because I'd really like to find a (secure!) web-based password manager.

More and more lately, I've been trying to find web apps that can replace the desktop applications I use on a daily basis. It's just so incredibly convenient to have the portability to be able to do everything you need from inside a web-browser, and more importantly to have the persistent-state data stored on the server-side rather than on each individual machine I use throughout the day. I'm already a huge fan of webapps like del.icio.us (for tracking all my bookmarks) and Google Reader (for all my RSS aggregation and reading needs), and finding a web-based password manager would be ideal. It really becomes a chore remembering what username or e-mail address I registered with at various websites: Amazon, eBay, Newegg, Google, Yahoo, credit cards, travel sites, online bill pay, banks, etc. (Oy!) It's just a lot of identities to juggle. I've thought about using KeePass or something, but that's a desktop app and I'd have to keep my database in-sync between work and home.

What really interested me about Clipperz is their claim at being a “zero- knowledge” web-application: they only store encrypted data on their server- side, and use Javascript to decrypt the data client-side based on the username and password which you supply. Your password is never sent to the server at all; it's merely used to decrypt the data locally. That's a pretty slick idea, IMO. But, I'm also a little nervous about trusting some third-party website will all my personal sensitive online account information. So, I'm tempted to sit down and write my own webapp to recreate that wheel, except that it's all code I can vouch for and know that it's not secretly sending my data off to some third-party site. You can already find open-source Javascript-based implementations of the various crypto algorithms that I'd need to use. And it seems like a simple AJAX-based webapp to save/load data from the server.

Also really intriguing is Clipperz' one-click-sign-in feature. They have a Javascript bookmark which pulls HTML FORM information off a given login page and then allows you to link the various FORM INPUT fields with the appropriate data-fields on the “card” for that website (e.g. username, password). The one- click sign-in then just has to do a HTTP POST to the desired web-address with the correct FORM data to act just like the real login page. It's simple enough, but that seems like the real time-saver here. Not only could you have a webapp which stores all your personal data, but it also provides a quick launchpad to login any site you need. That just takes it a step further and makes the webapp almost a blackbox: you don't really need to know what your username and password is anymore because the webapp database knows it and can feed it to the target website's login form for you.

This just seems like a really awesome idea, and I'm really tempted to just use Clipperz natively so that I don't have to re-invent the wheel, but I'm still just nervous about using someone else's website as a database to store all my personal sensitive data. It's basically just a trust issue, and I don't think I have any good reason to trust that their Javascript code will never do anything malicious. I'd much rather control the data myself on my private webserver. If only Clipperz was a SourceForge project… ;)

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