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Pass: The Standard Unix Password Manager (zx2c4.com)
40 points by jack7890 on Sept 4, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

I'm not sure I see how this is in-keeping with any Unix philosophy I've encountered. "Everything's a file" is good, yes, but this program is needlessly-specific when what it does need not be. This is just a tool for browsing a file hierarchy in which the files happen to be GPG encrypted, right?

Which one thing is this doing and doing well? Merely being command-line and somewhat file-oriented does not make Unix orientation. The utility has numerous sub-commands, many of which are simply wrappers for other commands, like find(1) or tree(1). An encrypted file-system or some other way of encrypting the password hierarchy would seem to be exactly all the value this adds over simply using the extant set of Unix command-line tools. Most of this functionality simply duplicates the shell and cat(1).

It doesn't do one thing and well, it seems to do a small number of very general tasks in needlessly-specialized ways requiring arcane and unfamiliar incantations. The password generation stuff makes a fine stand-alone Unix utility. But git integration in the same program?

This is a front-end which brings with it a considerable number of ideas about policy, rather than simply providing a tool. Most of what it does could be handled much more simply by the filesystem and the extant tools it leverages or reimplements.

Lotta facets of unix philosophy. It manages passwords and it does that well. "pass -c HN/ralphtinner", and then my password is on the clipboard for 45 seconds. That's nice.

From TFA, the password generation is via pwgen.

Encrypted filesystems often require root privs or SUID helpers and don't have straight-forward ways to do key management and key expiration. This tool relies on gpg's already working agent.

> From TFA, the password generation is via pwgen.

Seems strange to have the password generation "on the inside", though. That essentially means that `pwgen` is a strict dependency. Instead of writing something like

  pass generate Email/jasondonenfeld.com 15
the user should just type something like

  pwgen 15 1 | pass insert Email/jasondonenfeld.com
That way they don't need `pwgen` to install `pass`. It also means that all of the options to `pwgen` can be used without special effort or documentation.

I'd say the same thing about `xclip`, but it's probably not worth having to write something like

  pass -c Email/zx2c4.com | xclip -selection clipboard -l 1
(or however xclip is supposed to work).

Well, since pass is a shell script, and thus has no compilation, you don't need pwgen, and then you can just use "some-generator-program | pass insert blah" as you mentioned. For me, though pass generate Cheese 20 is a lot easier to remember than having to think about the options to pwgen. Pwgen, by default, makes passwords that are easy to remember, and there's some flag you have to hit to make them "truely random". I can't ever remember what this flag is.

With xclip, it's actually a bit more nuanced. You want this to be internal because I have some logic for removing the password from the clipboard after 45 seconds and putting the old clipboard contents back (if nothing else has replaced it in the meanwhile).

> my password is on the clipboard for 45 seconds.

That's not very secure. Why not send the password directly to the input manager (as keyboard events or what-have-you), so the password only is seen by the app that needs it, instead of every app the user is running?

Yea that sounds quite nice. Any suggestion on the best way to do this? I suppose there could be browser plugins that call out to pass, but what about a generic system? What would you recommend?


Coincidentally, I've also been using a GPG based password manager called 'pass' for about ten years or so. I publish its source code here, straight from my version control system called .bashrc:

    alias pass='gpg -o - ~/Important/passwords.gpg'
The gpg command will automagically use the relevant askpass dialog of the desktop of my choice, which I've set to expire after fifteen minutes. The above command will print a sorted list of entries in this format:

    site: username
    site: password
also known as a text file and extracting specific passwords goes by eyeballing the printed output or alternatively applying grep to only extract the stored data for a specific site. The final copying to the web browser happens via manual operation of mouse selection and the clipboard. I get rid of the plaintext passwords by actuating an operation called closing the terminal window.

Works just fine! And I got to choose the format of the datastore myself, too!

Yes, this is how mine started, and it works alright, except you don't have the niceties of clipboard management, password generation, really easy insertions, or revision logging. Mine started out as basically identical to yours though.

I could've guessed :) I've been resisting the urge to develop the text file further for ten years—it's been a valuable lesson of what's good enough when it comes to me.

This looks more elegant than the hacked-together system I'm using for my passwords, but I don't see a way to store any metadata about the passwords other than the name.

If you're looking for a command-line interface to a cross-platform password database, there's kpcli for keepassx.




I also use my own homebrew system that stores the password encrypted in the format of:

I have a number of alises setup that will generate new passwords or retrieve a password for a domain. for eg.

    $ p news.ycombinator.com
Will decrypt the password and store it in the clipboard. I don't see any added benefit of having a complete application to manage this process, the ~20 lines of shell script is just fine and I consider having to re-enter the master password a feature.

Edit: I see now that this is just a shell script as well[1]. Nice. I might take some ideas from it such as auto completion

[1] http://git.zx2c4.com/password-store/tree/src/password-store....

Your system is basically the same. pass is not a "complete application", but it's actually just a tiny shellscript. (RTFA...). You have to reenter the master password if that's the way GPG is setup. Or you don't have to reenter it, if it's set up that way instead.

Anyway, perhaps this is appealing to you: alias p="pass"

Check out the source of pass -- it's probably pretty similar to your bash aliases. In fact, pass for me used to be a bash alias too.

Scanned the article twice and it wasn't until I read the source that I saw that it was a shell script.

That is the headline feature IMO (rather than 'standard')

edit: I should add that what gave me the impression of this being an application rather than something I would really use was the way it was presented with 'install', makefiles etc. rather than 'here are 30 lines of bash you can dump into your rc file'

Cool! Hmm yea - maybe I should highlight that it's just a shell script somewhere.

I already say " It is a very short and simple shell script. " in the first paragraph. Maybe I should say something else too. Thinking...

Edit: responding to your edit: Yea, there's a lot of cruft that gets added to a source directory when you try and make anything on Linux into something suitable for /usr/bin and /usr/share/man. C'est la vie.

This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. I don't want this big behemoth. I want something small and easy and simple. A file for each password. If I want additional data, I can just use multiline. Or, I can establish a .meta convention if I please. Or this, or that, or whatever. It's simple, and can be used in a million different mashups.

mbox vs maildir...

I was just recently looking for a simple password manager for Ubuntu, and Seahorse is so close. It unlocks with your login key so if you're logged in you don't have to keep entering a master password each time you need to retrieve a password; it stores everything in one easily-copyable encrypted file; and it's a core part of GNOME. But you can't store any metadata about the password, like a username! And that makes it completely useless as a serious password storage interface. What good is a password if you can't easily store the username along with it?

If only someone would update Seahorse to store optional metadata along with passwords...

Hopefully you're able to fashion pass into storing the data you want? I don't like using my login key as a passphrase; seems flimsy, and I don't like having to use PAM tie-ins and whatnot when I change the system password. GPG has gpg-agent, so that it will keep the key decrypted for a set amount of time (or until logout, if you prefer), so this has pretty much the same function.

Most importantly, a simple GPG file is not an obscure file format.

Pass seems excellent but for me is also almost-there, because it doesn't unlock when I log in and I have to mess around with public/private keypairs. I prefer using passphrases because I travel a lot and if I lose my private key, it would be a monstrous hassle to get a backup private key in my hands securely. `gpg -c` is my go-to.

For me, unlock on login is essential. If someone beats me unconscious and steals my computer while I'm in a logged-in session, I have bigger things to worry about than a potentially lost password database.

On a tangential note, we as a hacker community really have to work on de-mystifying public/private keypair encryption. It gives me a headache to think about it and I've been a programmer for over a decade. If it does that to me then it's utterly unfathomable to laypeople and they're the ones who could make the most use out of strong encryption, and who could become the champions of privacy and security in the NSA-snooping age. But it's just too hard to explain and use.

If you want to unlock on log-in, just have your gpg key unlocked by your login password. Gnome keychain is capable of this. Your request is a definite possibility.

I prefer having the key + passphrase over just a passphrase. It makes it more difficult for the information to leak.

That said, if you'd like a pass with a gpg -c mode, it shouldn't be hard to add. I could do this, or you could send a nice git formatted patch. Let me know.

Anything is possible... but a program has to make it easy for us, i.e. anticipate potentially popular use-cases and cater to them. Otherwise non-techies will ignore the program and techies will roll our own simple solution instead of taking the time to explore and customize someone else's--just like I already have :)

(Although as a CLI program I suppose the argument could be made that non-techies will ignore it on principle anyway...)

Sorry, I should have written more clearly: the functionality you want -- gpg unlocked by login password -- is already available, implemented, and easy to use. Look around on your distribution. It exists.

If you're still looking for a password manager for Ubuntu, I really liked using KeepassX. It has password categories, lots of metadata. However, it doesn't unlock with the system.. :(

Keepass is exactly the bloated overweight system I was trying to avoid. pass is available for Ubuntu.

Calling unknown software the standard? Interesting approach. Fake it 'till you make it I guess.

I wonder how this compares to factotum.

I've written a number of filesystem-based databases, and the problem that always comes up is keeping the entries consistent. You don't want a password database where the master password is different between entries, but with this system, you can't enforce that invariant until it's too late.

A better idea might be a system where the canonical source of truth is an application-controlled database, but where you can export entries to a directory tree and import entries from a directory tree. This makes syncing more difficult (export to directory tree on both sides, rsync, import on both sides), but it ensures that invariants are checked at sync time rather than use time.

I suppose you can write a validation command that you always run after sync, but how many people are going to run that? You don't realized you've been burned by having an extra password for an obscure site until that happens.

That issue is solved here using GPG. Presuming you know how GPG works, your golden. Groking GPG is an issue, however -- it's an app that is not exactly user friendly.

For me, I love this, because I can secure passwords using my private key, stored on a GPG card. Of course, there are probably less than 250 people on earth doing that. :)

Whoa nice you have a GPG smart card? Very cool. There were some people giving out USB tokens at FOSDEM which looked sort of neat but I haven't gotten it working reliably.

GPG is mostly easy to use -- gpg -e -r someone@somewhere.com file.txt -- will encrypt that file for that recipient. Most of the basic stuff are easy. For creating a key and setting that up, I suppose this isn't super intuitive and nobody has those commands memorized, but there are so many guides out there for doing this. I think I started with the gentoo gpg guide [http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/gnupg-user.xml].

Anyway, you're correct -- this is one of the reasons pass uses GPG.

I have a GPG smartcard. The problem is that no readily-available card readers work under Linux. I had one on a Dell laptop of Core Duo vintage many years ago; after I got a new machine, I could never find a working card reader.

This seems really complicated. The whole point is to keep things simple and easy and not bloated with lots of applications and database formats and whatnot.

In any case, the GPG files have the ID of the key needed to decrypt them, so you can encrypt files with different keys, and so long as you have that key in your keychain still, you're good.

I guess I could add a simple convenience command "pass normalize" that decrypts everything and re-encrypts it using a single key. This would be a pretty simple way of doing it.

This looks nice. I've been doing something similar by hand for e.g offlineimap and msmtp passwords that I didn't want to store in plain text. I had planned on writing a similar utility to manage things, and it looks like now I won't have to. Thanks for sharing.

Great! Glad you like it. Let me know if you have any suggestions or feature requests.

I've been using (and updating) kedpm (python based FPM compatible password manager with GTK and CLI interfaces. found on sourceforce and github) for a few years now...

This looks like a nice addition to the growing menagerie of password managers.

All kedpm data, including entry names, are stored in an encrypted file. I think unencrypted filenames is a kind of information leakage; I may not want an attacker to know that I even a password to a specific service.

Also, I don't see a mechanism to search for entries. I have hundreds of password entries so search (on any field) is critical for me.

With the ability to search (assuming it's fast), the first problem could be mitigated by using generated file names.

Usernames aren't considered to be privileged data. If you're relying on your usernames being secret, then you're making a big mistake and you should rethink things. Alternatively, generic names.

For search, just use grep. "pass | grep whatever" has worked pretty well for me when the tab completion did not. Or would you suggest an alternative approach? I'm open to ideas.

You're right usernames aren't considered privileged, but the list of services and associated usernames is not the kind of information I would want to necessarily make public. The names alone would be more revealing that I care to share.

Yeah, 'pass | grep foo' would work for search. I missed the default behaviour.

It's not as if you're putting the names on the internet. They're still on your hard drive, beside your non-encrypted web browser session and history. For this kind of protection, even though it's leaked in a million places (unencrypted SMTP connections between mail servers when you receive the 'welcome to funworld' email, for example), there's disk encryption.

Hey, It's now got a nice Homebrew OSX port. It's not accepted yet, so you'll need to go

  brew install https://raw.github.com/zx2c4/homebrew/master/Library/Formula/pass.rb

It stores entries names in plaintext? Not very secure. I'll rather have log.tmp file container (with all encrypted passwords inside) than passwords\gmail.gpg

Usernames aren't considered to be privileged data. If you're relying on your usernames being secret, then you're making a big mistake and you should rethink things.

Single username isn't privileged data. But a set of usernames and realnames can be. It's better to lose a pendrive with encrypted block256.dat than Passwords\HackerNews\dfcsd.gpg, Passwords\Bank\34457356.gpg, Passwords\Mail\name.gmail.gpg etc.

It shouldn't be considered secret, period. If you're worried about non-secret data being used to attack you (the kind of data people can acquire by digging through your trash when you bring it out to the curb, for example), then your likely-to-be-lost USB key should be using some encryption of its own. This encryption doesn't defeat the purpose of using pass, either, because pass uses gpg agent, where the key nicely times out after a while, whereas disk encryption is somewhat persistent. Regardless, username data isn't private, even when you have multiple in once place; all that data can be put together through other means.

> the kind of data people can acquire by digging through your trash when you bring it out to the curb, for example

There's the difference, I think; I shred all my personally identifiable trash (well, recycling, actually).

Then you should also be using disk encryption, for your browser history and whatever else.

Why is that the case? It seems to give someone a lot of information. It's not just relying on the username to be secret, but it gives info to someone that you may want to be secret, like a password to a pornographic site.

Nice app by the way.

Because this information is stored elsewhere, unencrypted almost always.

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