..and I'm not even referring to the multitude of website passwords this time. I thought earlier OpenID would be the fix to those, but apparently not -- perhaps OAuth 2.0 and Facebook will be, though.
No, this time I'm talking of personal computer passwords. I don't have a huge amount of recent first-hand experience with how Mac and Windows work in this department, but the Linux/GNOME experience, connected to some presumably sensible company network access control, is certainly busted. Or, perhaps it's just me, and I'm doing something wrong - in which case, I would love to hear from someone who knows how to do this right.
- an encrypted home/user partition on my laptop hard drive, for which I have to type in a password to get the computer to boot. Never mind that the operating system partition (which doesn't contain anything secret, since the OS is downloaded off of Fedora Project's web site) isn't encrypted, so the computer ought to be able to boot without the user partition password -- it doesn't. That's a separate peeve. This is password #1.
- a password for my user account, since GNOME login facilities seriously under-appreciate using an account without a password. Never mind that I already proved who I am by typing in a password during boot - well, the last boot that was on average 19 days and 78 suspend-resume cycles and 42 laptop-bag trips ago. As far as I can tell, there is a valid reason for having this password, though I could imagine switching that to fingerpring recognition. Password #2.
- a password for the GNOME built-in passphrase storage keyring, which automatically collects things like network WPA passphrases, ... well, that's about it, really, but anyway, it makes life somewhat bearable. Password #3. In fact, all that stuff is actually stored in a keyring with a very long random string as a key, and a separate keyring holds a copy of that, locked using the password #2 -- when things work. This is what is supposed to let me type in a password once, and have the system usable.
- a password for my company account which lets me in to things like the intranet. One of many, many, many work-related passwords in various systems, internal and external (mostly external), which are infeasible to synchronize to one-time authentication at least today. This one is special though, because it's practically impossible to get any work done without it. Password #3 (I didn't count the one above, because it's not supposed to exist).
- a KeePass keyring pass phrase, because the GNOME keyring a) doesn't have decent UI so it could be used for manually managed passwords b) because of above, there are many of those c) that I need to also use on other devices, so this keyring is synced to those devices. Password #4, for those who are counting.
That's just the start, but without these, nothing works. Now -- password policy best practices often say that passwords must be changed periodically, in order to ensure various guarantees of dubious value. I ask you this - what happens, when one of the above passwords must be changed?
As good as my memory seems to be with random alphanumeric strings of letters and digits, I simply can not maintain four of them in memory along with the credit card PIN, phone number PIN, VPN token password, GMail password, Facebook password, and so on an so on, if I'm supposed to also get any work done. Especially not if one needs to be swapped out to a completely new random thing every now and then. So, I do what any human would do: try to minimize their number.
Because I'm relatively security conscious, I don't do that by using the name of my childhood pet on every system from the most security sensitive to every second web site that appears to require its own password. No, what I do is try to use the same password in all five of the above cases, because a) they're all needed in sequence anyway, b) I can't do effectively anything without access to all of them. I still need to type it way too many times, but at least that keeps the memory fresh.
Except -- changing any one of those places doesn't change any of the others. Not even the supposedly-integrated 1, 2 and 3. So, I end up with 5 instead of 1, and I don't know which is which. New "enter password to keyring 'default'" dialogs pop up on my desktop, prevent anything else from receiving any keyboard input, accept nothing as a valid password, and prevent me from working for 45 minutes.
I did figure out how to solve it, though -- prevent GNOME Keyring from accessing the 'default' keyring (for which there is no typable password to begin with), force it to change its login password to the new login password, and then re-enable access to the main keyring with all the WLAN pass phrases and other assorted stuff. However, it still wasted a lot of time, and would probably have stumped anyone else I know (I'm pretty hard core with this crap, sad to say).