Monday, January 23, 2012

Portable KeePass Tutorial for Ubuntu Linux and Windows Dual-Boot

Keeping track of a lot of passwords can be a pain, especially if you run a dual-boot system. Fortunately, there's a way to simplify this situation by using KeePass, an open source password management application. Keep reading to learn how it can help make you more productive by keeping your passwords safe and ready when you need them, even in a dual-boot environment.
Here is a situation: Your computer runs a dual boot operating system in Windows and Linux/Ubuntu. You actively use both operating systems. Maybe if you are a developer, you use Windows for developing ASP.NET websites and Ubuntu for PHP web development.
Or maybe you're just a normal person who happens to love both operating systems. You may be using Linux to provide much more security against common online malware, and you use Windows when you are playing games.
In either of these situations, you will frequently create, save and use a password to log in to your favorite websites, and for other purposes. KeePass is a wonderful open source password management solution, and is compatible with both Windows and Linux.
For best efficiency and productivity, you will use only one KeePass password database, that can be used by both Windows and Linux. There is no need for you to create another KeePass password database under the Ubuntu environment.
The advantage of having a "centralized" KeePass password database is increased work efficiency and productivity. You will not need to worry about whether you have updated your KeePass under the Windows environment, because the changes will also be available automatically in Ubuntu.
This "centralized" approach to password management looks like this, as compared to the inefficient approach (using two KeePass password databases):

The good thing about Keepass is that:
  • It encrypts the username and password in both file systems (Windows and Linux). This means that any malicious program that attempts to read your hard drive and harvest passwords will have a hard time if you keep your passwords in KeePass.
  • The database where all the login details are saved is protected with a master password.
  • For best security against key loggers, you need to use key files in addition to passwords. This means that, even if unauthorized persons get a hold of your password, they still need to identify the key file you used to successfully log in to your KeePass database.
  • It is free and portable. You will never need to install it into your operating systems. This makes it very easy to transport to other places, such as a flash drive or external hard drive, if you need to.
Getting Started with KeePass Password Management
The most recommended KeePass version for Ubuntu/Windows dual boot is the classic edition of KeePass (version 1.18 as of the time of this writing). You can download it here:
Version 2.x of KeePass requires Mono to work in Linux; that might be a little technical for beginners to deal with.
1. Under "Classic Edition," click "Portable KeePass 1.18 (ZIP Package)" to download it to your computer.
2. Once downloaded, right click on the zip package and click "Extract to KeePass-1.18."
3. Go inside the KeePass-1.18 folder and copy KeePass.exe to your Windows Desktop. You can delete the folder after copying.
4. You can give KeePass.exe a different name, for example "stargate.exe." But this is optional.
5. Double click KeePass.exe, which is now located in your Windows Desktop. You should see a blank window, like this:

5. You need to create a new database to store your usernames and passwords. Go to File -> New. You will be shown the "Create New Password Database."
  • Enter "Master password," and type a password you can easily remember.
  • Select "Key file:" Click the floppy disk icon to select any of your personal files as your key file. This can be images in jpg, mp3 file, bmp format or any file saved on your computer. Select only one. Make sure you will never delete this, and make a backup along with your KeePass database. Click "save" after you have selected a single file.
  • Finally, click OK to finish creating the composite master key.
  • You will be required to re-enter the master password.
6. After creating the database, you can start adding your own username/password entries to your KeePass. To do this, go to "Edit" -> "Add Entry." In the Add Entry dialog box, enter as much detail as you can provide.

7. If you have a list of your usernames and passwords in a text file, you can open it and transfer it to Keepass one at a time. To clear the password field, click on the password text box field and press Shift -> End in your keyboard. Then click OK to save this entry. You can repeat this process until all of your passwords are saved in Keepass.
8. Finally, after saving all passwords, you also need to save the KeePass database. To do this, go to File -> Save.
9. You can also import your existing username/password data from other password management solutions. You can do this from File -> Import from, and then select any of the choices that you are currently using, which you plan to import to Keepass.
At this stage, you have successfully transferred all of your username/password credentials to KeePass in Windows. You can delete all of your password/username copies that are unencrypted. You can also change all of your passwords when they are already copied to KeePass, to avoid any chance of someone compromising the old password in an unencrypted environment.
Since you are using an Ubuntu-Windows dual boot setup, restart your computer and then boot to Ubuntu. Then follow the steps below.
1. You need Wine installed in your Ubuntu environment. If you do not have Wine, you can install by going to Applications -> Ubuntu Software Center, and typing Wine in the search box.
You should see the result "Wine Microsoft Windows Compatibility Layer." Double click on it. Proceed to install until the installation process is completed. You will know it is completely installed if you will see the "remove" button. Screen shot:

2. The next thing you should do is mount your Windows hard drive containing Keepass. To do this, go to Places and select the hard drive corresponding to the Windows C drive. Example:

The above screen shot shows that the 84 GB Filesystem is the Windows C drive, and the 76 GB filesystem is the Windows E drive. Click the drive, and then Ubuntu will ask you to enter your Linux password.
3. Once the drive has been successfully mounted, you can access your Windows data. Navigate to your Windows Desktop, until you can find Keepass.exe.
4. Right click on that, and then click "Open with Wine Windows Program Loader." You will then see  Keepass asking you to enter your master password and key file. Of course, the key file is saved on the Windows hard drive, so you need to locate it as well. Enter the same credentials as you use in Windows.

Important Implementation Notes
1. Always make a backup of your Keepass database and key files. Put it in a separate storage space, not connected to your computer. You need this because, even though your password credentials are protected with encryption, if someone accidentally deleted your database/key files, without that backup you will never be able to retrieve it.
A regular backup is highly important.
2. Below are the operating systems and versions of software used in this tutorial that work. It might work with other versions, so you'd better check the KeePass documentation for details. 
  • Windows: Windows XP SP3 (fully updated)
  • Linux: Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala (fully updated)
  • Wine:  Wine 1.0.1
  • KeePass: Classic Edition/version 1.18
3. For best practices, you can use:
  • The drag and drop method of copying your username and password from Keepass to a website login form (the Yahoo login, for example).
  • Alternatively, you can set a very short clipboard clear time. The default is 10 seconds, so you can change it to three seconds, for example, in Tools -> Options -> Memory. Then set a new "Clipboard auto-clear time (seconds)."
  • A much better and more secure solution is to enable "Enhanced: allow pasting only once and protect against clipboard spies."
The simpler your KeePass implementation, the better.


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