Should you trim passwords?

A question I see asked from time to time is whether or not web sites should trim passwords on account creation and login. More often than not the typical responses show both a complete lack of understanding of what "trim" even means from people who should know better, and a lack of understanding that not every user is Dade Murphy after he just got in from grindin' some serious hand rails. Though not everyone has their head up their ass or argues from a position of complete ignorance.

So consider:

  • Trim means to remove white space from the beginning and end of a string, not the centre.
  • Even if you don't email passwords or display them anywhere, users will still copy/paste them to each other and various places and often this will add a space or \n to the end of the string.

A few things are clear to me based on my experience and reading what others had to say about it:

  1. People who are against trimming passwords either don't know what trim means, or think everyone else understands and uses simple security protocols like not saving passwords in word processors
  2. People who are against trimming passwords probably have never had to deal with real users or customers, and probably are some shitty wanna be Richard Stallman with retarded expectations of what users can and should be able to do
  3. Users should be allowed to have spaces within the string itself, but not on either end, in order to save your support people (and possibly yourself) a lot of headaches
  4. People who are against it assume that if there's a space it's because a user intended it, but how many people actually put spaces at the end of passwords? Basically fucking nobody.

So it's simple: users should be able to use any characters they want in a password, but the password should be trimmed at both create and login. There's also no reason to warn people that passwords are trimmed, again because nobody understands what the fuck this means, even apparently technical people. We know from massive lists of cracked and leaked plain text passwords that nobody uses spaces at the end of passwords, not even keyboard cowboys who give bad advice on Stackoverflow.

Trim away my friends, don't listen to people who probably don't even have clients.

Properly escaping MySQL queries in PHP

I'm on various boards and such and from time to time people run into issues where they're trying to insert something into MySQL via a raw query and they inevitably run into that pesky apostrophe and the query dies.

Then almost always someone comes along to tell them that they need to use addslashes().

This is wrong.

Ideally you really want to use prepared statements (mysqli and PDO extensions), but let's assume for now you're throwing caution to the wind and you're going to do it the old fashioned way.

If you're using the mysql extention, you should use mysql_real_escape_string() around all of your variables which are not cast as integers. But actually, you shouldn't be using this function because mysql_* is deprecated, way deprecated. Instead you should be using…

mysqli which is faster, better, sexier, everything you want in a wom… extension. In this case we have the more logical name mysqli_escape_string() or you can use the back-to-goofiness-again method in the mysqli class $mysqli::real_escape_string() and it works the same way.

One issue is that with both of the above functions you have to actually be connected to the server to use them, that's because it escapes based on your connection chartype and some other stuff.

However assuming you're not too worried about potential unicode issues (I've yet to have any, supporting Serbian and Hungarian) you can always make your own function to escape based on what MySQL requires:

But there's always a potential danger in doing things yourself and I actually don't have proof the above is faster than the connection required escape functions, so just use prepared statements ideally.

What are HIPAA's encryption requirements?

There's a lot of assumptions about what HIPAA states when it comes to encryption, be it over the wire, files, whatever. The fact is that HIPAA makes absolutely no requirements for encryption*, just that if there's reasonable risk, it must have encryption. What kind of encryption? What sort of strength? It does not specify*.

So to break it down:

  • Does HIPAA require encryption? No, unless there's a reasonable risk something could be read, as in over a network or what have you
  • What sort of encryption does HIPAA require? Essentially anything.

My suggestions though are:

  • You should use encryption in as many places as possible, especially if devices are storing information, almost all HIPAA data violations come from people losing laptops or whatever and the drives aren't encrypted. You can use something like TrueCrypt or even Windows EFS.
  • I suggest PGP since it's so widely implemented and available, and SSL for networks, etc since again, implementation is widely available. Where not available you can tunnel over things such as encrypted VPN connections as well.

* Source: HIPAA 45 CFR § 164.312(a)(2)(iv) and (e)(2)(ii).

By the way: IANAL/TINLA