Discovering my personal limit on how much I care about security

May 16, 2016

Sometimes finding out about hardware and software cause you to find out things about yourself too. In my case, discovering and reading up on two-factor authentication tokens that you can use to hold your SSH keys (as I more or less want) led me to discover the limits of how much I care about my personal security.

To be specific, it turns out that I don't care enough to pay for a 2FA token for personal use (cf). It's not that they're particularly expensive (although you may not want a current generation Yubikey), but even that modest expense is enough that my inaction shows that I've passively decided that I don't care that much.

Part of this is certainly that I don't think it would get me that much more security or convenience. In security, I already hold my personal SSH keys encrypted and load them into ssh-agent instead of using them directly in ssh; in convenience, well, I make them accessible in ssh-agent, so as long as I'm actively using one of my primary machines I can ssh to other machines without any challenges being involved. Putting SSH keypairs in a physical token of some sort would make them less accessible to an attacker who could compromise my workstation, but in practice if an attacker compromises my workstation I've already lost.

But that's only part of it, because if I was given a 2FA device I'd certainly go to the effort of setting it up and using it (and I'd be happy if work bought one or more to experiment with). I just don't care enough to spend any of my own money on improving my security. So that's the limit of how much I care about my security right now; free is fine, money is out.

(I'm aware that 2FA tokens can increasingly be used for things like Github and other websites in addition to just SSH logins, but I don't care enough about them either. If anything I care less about Github than I do about SSH logins, because of what I consider my Github account to be about (which is another entry entirely). Possibly I should care more and maybe someday I will, but not at the moment. I'd probably have to write something that people came to value and depend on before that happened.)

Sidebar: My view on 2FA token usage on untrusted machines

One nominal usage case for 2FA tokens is when you want to log in to your account from a machine that you don't trust enough to use a regular password from. My view there is that I don't trust other machines enough to expose a login session to them, because basically anything that I do or see in one is potentially sensitive. If I don't trust your machine not to be keylogging my password, I don't trust it to not be logging my entire SSH session.

(And ditto for things like IMAP access or using a sensitive website, although we have a few websites that I might trust a machine enough to do one time operations on. Fortunately this doesn't come up in the work that I do in specific, because I don't really have to interact with other people's machines to do things like get them on the network.)

Written on 16 May 2016.
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Last modified: Mon May 16 00:43:47 2016
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