I was reading "A Convenient Method for Securely Managing Passwords, Halderman et al., 2005". In short, the authors say to do the following:

cache = very_long_key_derivation_function(salt,master_password)
save the cache on disk
password_for_site_a = short_key_derivation_function(salt,site_a|master_password|cache)
password_for_site_b = short_key_derivation_function(salt,site_b|master_password|cache)


  • very_long_key_derivation_function is some key derivation functions tuned to require approx 2 minutes
  • short_key_derivation_function is some key derivation functions tuned to require 1 second.

This forbids to site_a to brute force the secret in order to find the password of site_b (since each try requires 2 minutes), still allowing fast time to calculate the password of a website. If the cache file is stolen, is still necessary to guess the master_password to know the derived passwords.

There are two problems with this method:

  • the master_password is used each time the user needs the password of a certain site
  • in order to change the master password (it is used often, it could be seen), all the derived passwords must be changed

I would like to modify the schema in the following way:

k1 = very_long_key_derivation_function(salt,master_password_1)
k2 = short_key_derivation_function(salt,master_password_2)
cache = k1 xor k2
save cache on disk
password_for_site_a = short_key_derivation_function(salt,site_a|(cache xor k2))
password_for_site_b = short_key_derivation_function(salt,site_b|(cache xor k2))

In this way master_password_1 is used only once (the first time the password manager is used), while master_password_2 is used each time the user needs a password for a site. The derived passwords do not depend on master_password_2. Assuming that master_password_1 can not be stolen (since it is used only once), in order to steal a site password both the cache file and master_password_2 are needed. Also, it is possible to change master_password_2 if the user suspects that somebody saw him writing it, by computing:

k1 = very_long_key_derivation_function(salt,master_password_1)
k3 = short_key_derivation_function(salt,master_password_3)
cache = k1 xor k3.
save cache on disk

when the user will use master_password_3 the derived site passwords will be the same as before.

I would use some string derived from the username as a salt, and argon2 as key derivation function. Do you think this could be a good method to manage passwords?

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but if you save the cache to disk then an attacker only has to solve the short key derivation function to guess the master password. The entire scheme is broken in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Jun 20 '16 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ Why is it broken? An attacker has to 1. steal the file 2. guess the second password. Isn't it like to say that an attacker has to steal an encrypted database containing my password and guess its relative decrypting password? $\endgroup$ – gw653 Jun 20 '16 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, for any password manager, if I steal the file where the passwords are saved encrypted, I just need to guess the decrypting password, right? It seems to me that the cache file can be compared to an encrypted passwords file. $\endgroup$ – gw653 Jun 20 '16 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ If you are going to store something on disk anyway, why not store randomly generated site passwords like ~all password managers do? The "derive from master password" schemes are only useful when you cannot store anything. $\endgroup$ – otus Jun 21 '16 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to deterministically generate passwords in order to be able to recover the passwords if I lose all my data and backups... are there alternatives to achieve this? $\endgroup$ – gw653 Jun 21 '16 at 12:57

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