1Password is About to Lose a Lot of Customers

3 minute read

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a post calling out AgileBits on the fact that 1Password was leaking metadata. I pointed out that while they aren’t leaking passwords, there mere existence of accounts is enough to cause problems for many people. This flaw was with their older keychain format, and my main issue wasn’t with the flaw, but the fact that they weren’t encouraging people to move to the new format which didn’t have the issue. Despite this, I was still happy with the security of the product and I had faith in the company. Today, that no longer applies.

A few weeks ago a post appeared on the 1Password blog. It didn’t received much traction until today though. Essentially, the post lays out a new version of 1Password for Windows which will make the current file formats read only and force the user to pay a subscription fee to store their passwords on 1Password’s servers. Now, I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t have a problem with their fee model being subscription based. In fact, I practically welcome it. I paid for 1Password 3 or 4 years ago and got a licence for Windows, OS X, Android and iOS. I gave them something like £80 for all that, once. This is a company who I trust with my security. I don’t want them to be scraping by and trying to figure out how to pay their employees. I don’t want them cutting corners in order to get sales. Keeping the company healthy is in my best interests as a user. A subscription model would guarantee income for them, and would help me sleep a little easier at night.

So where is my problem? It’s the fact that I no longer have control over my vault. My passwords will automatically be synced to 1Passwords servers and will no longer be in my control. “But your passwords are encrypted before being sent to them!” I hear you cry. Sure, I’m not denying that. I have faith that AgileBits have implemented this mechanism safely and securely. The problem isn’t my passwords on their servers. It’s everyone’s.

Servers full of passwords are wonderful targets for thieves. Now imagine servers full of password vaults. What Fort Knox is to a bank robber, 1Password’s servers will be to black hats. AgileBits have just painted a target on their backs and don’t even realise it.

So let’s say that someone does compromise their servers (I said I had faith in AgileBits, but no one writes perfect code all the time), what happens next? I have a strong master password, so I know that my passwords would be safe. But what about the thousands of people who don’t have strong master passwords? Their vaults are essentially ripe for the picking. Now, they do have a secret key which is said to never leave your device and your encryption key is derived from your master password and your secret key. This is a great feature that I don’t want to put down. However, if you are a black hat, have 100,000 password vaults, 10% of which have weak passwords, and no secret keys, what do you do? You start working on getting those keys. If a user is using a weak master password, you can almost certainly assume their general security habits aren’t great. A targeted attack on any of these people would have a high chance of success.

Ok, enough about the security. What else is wrong with this approach? Well, for a start, I now must have a network connection in order to be able to add my 1Password vault to a machine. I can’t keep it on a USB drive and use that on each machine. If someone has an air-gapped machine, then it’s no use.

Next up is the fact that if I want to continue getting updates, some of which might be critical for security, I need to upgrade, which means my vault is made read-only. I might be left with a choice of being secure, and being able to use my password manager. I can’t speak for everyone, but it really feels like I’m being left out in the cold on this one.

The final thing is the worst. It’s the fact that it really seems like AgileBits just doesn’t care about it’s users any more. I would guess that a significant number of people (myself included) use 1Password over competitors like LastPass or DashLane because it doesn’t sync to a central server. This feels like a money grab rather than something that has been done to make their users happier. As I mentioned, I’m fine with a subscription for the licence, just please leave me in control of my passwords.