Open Source Security Tech

First Steps with KeePassXC

Why KeePassXC?

Most of my experience with password managers lies with KeePass. For an enterprise environment it is simple to use, easy to deploy and fairly lightweight. For my personal use I can take advantage of its portability and not worry about phishing too much, as I tend to type out websites directly when something sketchy comes around. For work, VMs and other users however, I recommend KeePassXC now. It offers some advantages to KeePass, namely an easier interface, browser integration and TOTP.

The browser integration provides phishing protection => if users click on links asking for credentials, the extension will not recognise the domain and therefore not provide credentials. Along with the easier interface, this means users are more likely to avoid password reuse and less likely to fall for phishing attempts.

First Steps

The KeePassXC team have a great introduction to their password manager, covering details from setting up a database to the configuration of the browser integration. I highly recommend taking a look there before doing the install, even if just to make yourself aware of the different interface. You can find their getting started guide here.

Now, following the steps from the KeePass guide there are some differences in the procedures. The first is the key transformation, instead of telling the system how many iterations you want, KeePassXC suggests choosing how long it takes to decrypt the database.

KeePassXC settings interface, on the security menu, encryption settings tab.

Unlike KeePass, KeePassXC doesn’t provide password templates. nor does it offer the ability to generate a password from the previous password (useful for services with character or length limitations). The password generator takes the last used settings. My recommendation is to check the box to avoid lookalike characters (for those times you need to type it out).

Password creator with the Exclude look-alike characters checkbox ticked

Same as with KeePass, KeePassXC allows entries to autoexpire. This is not checked by default, in my use of the application, it does not stay checked when making several entries. The preset expiry times include 1, 2, 3 weeks, months and years.

KeePassXC new entry window with no expiry date selected.

Same as with KeePass, I recommend renewing your passwords at 6 month intervals, but at least once a year.


Unlike KeePass, KeePassXC comes with TOTP support out of the box. While arguably this is not great as it means you are getting all your authentication tokens through the same medium, it does protect your accounts from brute forcing attacks. You can’t set TOTP from the entry window, but after creating the entry right click => TOTP =>Setup TOTP. When generating your tokens, tell the web service you can’t scan the QR code, and enter the secret into the TOTP window.

Setup TOTP window with an empty Secret Key.

It is worth mentionning that you can get the secret from KeePassXC. Not the most secure solution but I can see this being useful for teams connecting to client environments, as the database can be shared through KeeShare with those people who need access to it. With the browser extension, this means seamless logging in to services as all the credentials come from a single place, (and the database can be locked with a passphrase & hardware token).


KeeShare sort of takes the need for cloud sync away accross devices, however my limited experience with this feature was not great. Most likely due to user error and limited time / infrastructure to play with it, it is worth knowing that the KeePassXC team have documented it quite well over here.

Nice to know

You can save credentials from the browser extension directly to your database. These will be in a default “browser credentials” group. You can order them into whatever folder you want if you actively use the standard interface to find them faster.

By default, autotype is enabled in KeePassXC, but with no assigned shortcut. With the browser extension I have not found any reason to activate it. Specially after the shenanigans with KeePass spouting my credentials into a couple services.

The browser extension requires the database to be unlocked in order to use the credentials. The icon turns green when the connection between the extension and the data base is active, and grey if the connection is not present. I have found it particularly useful to be able to hide the window once it has been unlocked as it lets me keep an uncluttered desktop, and the browser lets me know if anything is the matter.

KeePassXC Application Setting window with ‘Minimize window after unlocking database’ checked

By default, the database will be saved after every change (new entry, password change, etc.). I’ve found this behaviour useful, but worth knowing if you have a long decryption time it can slow down your machine. The behaviour can be medified in the Application Settings => File Management.

KeePassXC Application Settings window with ‘Automatically save after every change’ option checked

Sadly, unlike KeePass, there is no option to show expired / expiring soon entries upon loading up the interface. The entries will have a different icon showing that the entry has expired and the title will be crossed through.

KeePassXC expired entry “Test” with the expired entry icon, & title crossed through

KeePass or KeePassXC?

I think it really comes down to the user. Both offer similar levels of protection for the users’ databases, they differ mainly in what they offer out of the box. Neither solution has been ported to Android or iOS which means regardless of what you pick, there will always be another party accessing your passwords. I believe KeePass will continue to have its place in enterprise environments where it outperforms the XC variant through a slimmer interface. KeePassXC does provide a nicer experience for first time users, with default settings that make it easy to use from the get-go. As long as you don’t use TOTP, you can use both with the same database and decide later on.

CTF Open Source OSINT Tech

Trace Labs CTF 2021.2

What is the Trace Labs CTF?

Trace Labs organise regular OSINT Capture the Flag events, crowdsourcing data about missing people where law enforcement has requested the public’s assistance. According to the value and difficulty involved in finding the clues, they provide the submitting team different number of points. The advantage is that by creating a larger community, there is more varied experience in the people researching and so data points which may have been missed by the top teams are still handed back to law enforcement. I managed to participate in the February 2021 CTF and the team ranked in the top 50 (out of 290!) despite all members being complete rookies.

Preparing for the CTF

In order to isolate the research from my machine, I went with the Tracelabs VM. Imported the nameFinder tool to streamline looking up additional sources for accounts. (I would later discover one of the dependencies was not working as expected, meaning all hits had to be tested manually). Cloned the VM for the CTF and called it quits on the technical side.

For the team I found someone interested in participating in a local hacker group, a mate on the other side of the world and then we found the 4th on the Trace Labs Slack. I got some good feedback from other participants here for last minute prep to which Heather’s feedback was particularly extensive.

During the CTF

The CTF platform allows you to see the active cases, how many flags you’ve submitted and any flags that have been rejected by the judge. Rejections will include comments from the judge explaining why it was rejected, which makes it easier to keep track and resubmit if necessary.

We used a group DM for team communications, and then added an additional group DM with our judge as soon as one was attributed to us. Our judge was particularly pro-active in their communications to us which was very useful in guiding our research.

After the CTF

Once the CTF platform closed, the flags were counted & validated and the top teams & MVO awards were given out. After some celebration with the participants on the good work done that night, I promptly hit the hay as it had been an intense (but highly rewarding) all nighter.

Hindsight == 20/20?

In terms of personal preparation I think there is little more that I could have done between signing up & the contest, simply due to lack of experience in the field. Following this CTF I definitely feel more confident in exploring different routes and having a larger toolkit to pivot from existing datapoints.

As a team, Mon hit it on the head that having appropriate workflows in place is the way to get higher up in the leaderboard. We went at it as 4 individuals, simply divvying up the cases, but without sharing the data points. I’m certain we could have obtained many more flags had we used appropriate data sharing tools. The issue becomes of course trusting the sharing service to not be leaking sensitive data. A solution I’d like to try before the next CTF is using Obsidian MD with Syncthing to share the notes accross team members.