What is the simplest and most elegant way of storing a small amount of data in a reasonably secure way?

I am not looking for ridiculous levels of advanced encryption (AES-256 is more than enough) and I am only looking to encrypt a small number of files.

The files I wish to encrypt are mostly comprised of password lists and SSH keys for servers. Unfortunately it is impossible to keep track of ever changing passwords for my servers (and SSH keys) and so need to keep a list of the passwords. Obviously this list needs to be secure, and also portable (I work from multiple locations).

At the moment, I use a 10MB encrypted disk image on my mac (std .dmg AES-256) and just mount it whenever I need access to the data. To my knowledge this is very secure and I am very happy using it. However, the data is not very portable. I would like to be able to access my data from other machines (especially ones running linux), and I am aware that there are quite a few issues trying to mount an encrypted .dmg on linux.

An alternative I have considered is to create a tar archive containing the files and use gpg --symmetric to encrypt it, but this is not a very elegant solution as it requires gpg to be installed on every system.

So, what over solutions exist, and which ones would you consider to be the most elegant?


  • Detach it from internet. – Jakub Konecki Feb 28 '11 at 21:23

The files I wish to encrypt are mostly comprised of password lists and SSH keys for servers.

In that case, I would recommend an encrypted password database.

PasswordSafe is a popular choice. It's mature, free software, and there are several programs for different platforms that use the same database format, so you can access the database from Windows, Mac OSX and Linux/Unix.


If you want to encrypt arbitrary files, then using gpg -c is a good solution. It's convenient and cross-platform. Be careful with the unencrypted files you create, though -- on most platforms secure deletion is difficult to impossible, you might want to take that into account.

As to having to install gpg everywhere - I believe that is unavoidable. I don't know any encryption software that comes preinstalled on all major OSes.

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  • Thanks for the suggestion. I currently use LastPass for most of my password storage, and certainly this would be a good solution... but I would prefer to have the possibility to encrypt data other than passwords. On a side note, how safe is a password protected private ssh key? – mrwooster Feb 28 '11 at 10:26
  • A password protected private SSH key should be as secure as the passphrase you use to protect it. – sleske Feb 28 '11 at 11:09

Bruce Schneier has given a recommendation for storing passphrases in a way that cannot be read or erased by any virus, trojan, or other malware.

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