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GNOME Cleartext Passwords: Bug or Feature?

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Software
Security

The current discussion in the Ubuntu forums is about a possible security hole in GNOME, specifically about GNOME registered users having their passwords appear as cleartext on the keyring. Not a bug, say its defenders, but the security concept behind the GNOME keyring.

In the discussion thread, the discoverer of the "blatant security flaw" gave an example of how it happens in Ubuntu 9.10. The user starts Ubuntu and registers on the desktop. The path through the Applications | Accessories | Passwords and Encryption Keyrings menus arrives at the keyring manager. Clicking on the Login folder shows the application processes and programs (including WLAN and mail accounts) and their respective passwords.

A right mouse click on an entry shows a context menu of properties, one of its tab being for keys. Clicking Password pops up a screen asking whether keyring access is allowed, for which no restrictions exist. The passphrase then appears and can be viewed as cleartext.

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