LastPass breach update: The few additional bits of information

Half a year after the LastPass breach started in August 2022, information on it remains sparse. It took until December 2022 for LastPass to admit losing their users’ partially encrypted vault data. This statement was highly misleading, e.g. making wrong claims about the protection level provided by the encryption. Some of the failures to protect users only became apparent after some time, such as many accounts configured with a dangerously low password iterations setting, the company hasn’t admitted them to this day.

Screenshot of an email with the LastPass logo. The text: Dear LastPass Customer, We recently notified you that an unauthorized party was able to gain access to a third-party cloud-based storage service which is used by LastPass to store backups. Earlier today, we posted an update to our blog with important information about our ongoing investigation. This update includes details regarding our findings to date, recommended actions for our customers, as well as the actions we are currently taking.

Despite many questions being raised, LastPass maintained strict radio silence since December. Until yesterday they published an article with details of the breach. If you were hoping to get answers: nope. If you look closely, the article again carefully avoids making definitive statements. There is very little to learn here.

TL;DR: The breach was helped by a lax security policy, an employee was accessing critical company data from their home computer. Also, contrary to what LastPass claimed originally, business customers using Federated Login Services are very much affected by this breach. In fact, the attackers might be able to decrypt company data without using any computing resources on bruteforcing master passwords.

Update (2023-02-28): I found additional information finally explaining the timeline here. So the breach affects LastPass users who had an active LastPass account between August 20 and September 16, 2022. The “Timeline of the breach” section has been rewritten accordingly.

The compromised senior DevOps engineer

According to LastPass, only four DevOps engineers had access to the keys required to download and decrypt LastPass backup data from Amazon Web Services (AWS). These keys were stored in the LastPass’ own corporate LastPass vault, with only these four people having access.

The attackers learned about that when they initially compromised LastPass in August 2022. So they specifically targeted one of these DevOps engineers and infected their home computer with a keylogger. Once this engineer used their home computer to log into the corporate LastPass vault, the attackers were able to access all the data.

While LastPass makes it sound like the employee’s fault, one has to ask: what kind of security policies allowed an employee to access highly critical company assets from their home computer? Was this kind of access sanctioned by the company? And if yes, e.g. as part of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy – what kind of security measures were in place to prevent compromise?

Also, in another transparent attempt to shift blame LastPass mentions a vulnerability in a third-party media software which was supposedly used for this compromise. LastPass does not mention either the software or the vulnerability, yet I highly doubt that the attackers burned a zero-day vulnerability. LastPass would certainly mention it if they did, as it supports their case of being overrun by highly sophisticated attackers.

However, Ars Technica quotes an anonymous source claiming that the software in question was Plex media server. Plex has two known vulnerabilities potentially allowing remote code execution: CVE-2019-19141 and CVE-2018-13415. The former is unlikely to have been exploited because it requires an authenticated attacker, which leaves us with a vulnerability from 2018.

And that certainly explains why LastPass wouldn’t mention the specific vulnerability used. Yes, allowing an employee to access company secrets from a computer where they also run an at least four years old Plex version that is directly accessible from the internet – that’s pretty damning.

Update (2023-03-02): Dan Goodin, the journalist behind the article above, got a definitive statement from LastPass confirming my speculations:

We can confirm that the engineer was running an earlier, unpatched version of Plex Media Server on the engineer’s home computer. This was not a zero-day attack.

Update (2023-03-05): According to PCMag, Plex learned that the vulnerability abused here was actually CVE-2020-5741 from 2020. That would mean that the attackers already had admin access to the media server. How they gained admin access is unknown.

Timeline of the breach

Other than that, we learn fairly little from the LastPass statement. In particular, this doesn’t really help understand the timeline:

the threat actor […] was actively engaged in a new series of reconnaissance, enumeration, and exfiltration activities aligned to the cloud storage environment spanning from August 12, 2022 to October 26, 2022.

As it turns out, another recently published document is more specific:

The threat actor was able to copy five of the Binary Large Objects (BLOBs) database shards that were dated: August 20, 2022, August 30, 2022, August 31, 2022, September 8, 2022, and September 16, 2022. This took place between September 8 - 22, 2022. LastPass accounts created after these dates are not affected.

So in the initial breach in August 2022 the attackers compromised an employee’s company laptop to steal some source code and internal information. They used the information to compromise the aforementioned senior DevOps engineer’s home computer. This way they gained access to LastPass’ backup storage, and between September 8 and 22 they’ve been copying data.

And we finally know which users are affected: the ones who had active LastPass accounts between August 20 and September 16, 2022. Anyone who deleted their account before that time span or created their account after it isn’t affected.

That’s finally something specific. Too bad that it took almost half a year to get there.

Bad news for business customers

Back in December, LastPass had good news for business customers:

The threat actor did not have access to the key fragments stored in customer Identity Provider’s or LastPass’ infrastructure and they were not included in the backups that were copied that contained customer vaults. Therefore, if you have implemented the Federated Login Services, you do not need to take any additional actions.

As people pointed out, Super Admin accounts cannot be federated. So even businesses implementing Federated Login Services should have taken a closer look at their Super Admin accounts. That’s another issue LastPass failed to admit so far.

But that isn’t the biggest issue. As Chaim Sanders noticed, LastPass’ recently published recommendations for business customers directly contradict their previous statements:

The K2 component was exfiltrated by the threat actor as it was stored in the encrypted backups of the LastPass MFA/Federation Database for which the threat actor had decryption keys.

As Chaim Sanders explains, business accounts using Federated Login Services are using a “hidden master password” consisting of the parts K1 and K2. And now we learn that K2 was stored without any protection in the backups that the attackers exfiltrated – just like URLs in the vault data.

But at least the K1 component is safe, since that one is stored with the company, right? Well, it didn’t leak in the breach. However, Chaim Sanders points out that this part is identical for the entire company and can be trivially extracted by any employee.

So the attackers can compromise any of the company’s employees, similarly to how they compromised LastPass’ DevOps engineer. And they will get the K1 component, enabling them to decrypt the LastPass data for the entire company. No need to throw lots of computing resources on bruteforcing here.

Just read the full article by Chaim Sanders, it’s really bad news for any company using LastPass. And to make matters worse, LastPass makes resetting K1 very complicated.

Any security improvements?

While the LastPass statement goes to great lengths explaining how they want to prevent data from leaking again in the same way, something is suspiciously missing: improvements for the encryption of customer data. It’s great that LastPass wants to make exfiltrating their data harder in future, but why not make this data useless to the attackers?

Two issues would have been particularly easy to fix:

  1. The new master password policy introduced in 2018 is not being enforced for existing accounts. So while new accounts need long master passwords, my old test account still goes with eight characters.
  2. The password iterations setting hasn’t been updated for existing accounts, leaving some accounts configured with 1 iteration despite the default being 100,100 since 2018. My test account in particular is configured with 5,000 iterations which, quite frankly, shouldn’t even be a valid setting.

The good news: when I logged into LastPass today, I could see the Security Dashboard indicating new messages for me.

Screenshot of the LastPass menu. Security Dashboard has a red dot on its icon.

Going there, I get a message warning me about my weak master password:

Screenshot of a LastPass message titled “Master password alert.” The message text says: “Master password strength: Weak (50%). For your protection, change your master password immediately.” Below it a red button titled “Change password.”

Judging by a web search, this isn’t a new feature but has been there for a while. It’s quite telling that I only noticed this message when I went there specifically looking for it. This approach is quite different from forcing users to set a strong master password, which is what LastPass should have done if they wanted to protect all users.

And the password iterations? LastPass has recently increased the default to 600,000 iterations. But this is once again for new accounts only.

There is no automatic password iterations update for my test account. There isn’t even a warning message. As far as LastPass is concerned, everything seems to be just fine. And even for business users, LastPass currently tells admins to update the setting manually, once again promising an automated update at some point in the future.


  • Mike

    That database apparently also held MFA seeds, so everyone using MFA now needs to generate a new seed since the attacker has the existing ones.

  • Nate

    I'm wondering if former LastPass users who deleted their accounts before August 20, 2022 are truly in the clear. I understand that the data was "dated" August 20th, but does that mean only accounts that were active on that date are impacted? LastPass clearly says that any account created after September 16th isn't impacted but they say nothing about accounts deleted before August 20th. My LastPass account was deleted in early August, before August 14th, and the deletion email states "Your LastPass account has been permanently deleted and all of your data has been purged from our systems." Regardless, I rotated all of my passwords in December in my new password manager.

  • Berk

    Have some sympathy for those of us who were convinced to sign up with the firm in early September. Why there hasn't been a class action lawsuit yet is utterly beyond me. 33 million customers. They had ONE JOB. They knew they were compromised and were actively taking on new customers throughout that period. I know because I was one of them, and they didn't even have the decency to offer a refund, after announcing only 2 months later that they'd lost everything. Beyond furious. And am I right in thinking that we still don't know about this business of storing URLs and other personally identifiable data in fucking plaintext? To my mind, that's arguably worse than losing the passwords, and will probably lead to some people dead or persecuted by their governments. Great job, guys.