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Thursday, 12 May 2022 23:59

Five tips for better password security

By Rebecca Taylor, Incident Response

GUEST OPINION: It is critical to select strong passwords and properly manage them so they remain secure. Secureworks incident responders have recommended these best practices for you.

World Password Day was held on 5 May, and while that may prompt organisations to examine their password policies and individuals to review their personal password use and management, it is more important than ever to always adhere to strong password security methodologies in a world where passwords can be easily breached and even sold.

  1. Focus on password length rather than complexity. Historically, password policies encouraged users to create complex passwords composed of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The significant increases in password cracking, availability of cracking tools, and speed at which threat actors can break simplistic passwords have rendered these recommendations inadequate. In December 2021, the World Economic Forum reported that an 8-letter password containing one uppercase letter could be cracked in as little as 22 minutes. Ensuring that passwords are at least 16 characters in length, while maintaining the historical complexity recommendations, improves password strength. In addition, Secureworks incident responders recommend requiring a 127-character password for highly sensitive devices, information, or accounts (e.g., Windows service or administrator accounts).
  2. Choose a password that is easy to remember but hard to guess. It is difficult for individuals to remember long complex passwords, which can trigger them to reuse passwords across multiple accounts or write down the passwords. These poor password management techniques can increase the risk of compromise. Passphrases (e.g., This is actually a Great Password!) are a better solution because they are often easier to remember. They can be song lyrics, catchphrases, or quotes from books or films that are meaningful to the user. Passphrases also tend to be longer than traditional passwords and therefore harder for a threat actor to crack.
  3. Supplement passwords with multi-factor authentication. Passwords are more secure than no protection, but they should not be the sole method for authenticating an identity or verifying access authorisations. Combining a password with multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an additional layer of security and protection. It requires a minimum of two types of authentication, typically consisting of ‘something you know’ (e.g., a password), ‘something you have’ (e.g., an authenticator app or cyber token) or ‘something you are’ (e.g., biometrics). However, it is important to implement MFA correctly.
  4. Utilise ‘something you are’ more frequently. With many devices including cameras and other biometric readers such as fingerprint scanners, organisations and users can use ‘something you are’ more frequently as a method of authentication. Prior to relying on biometric readers for authentication, organisations should consider the following factors:
    • Review any potential delays associated with processing a biometric authentication, as well as associated false acceptance and false rejection rates. An organisation must be willing to accept the risks associated with falsely accepting or rejecting a submitted biometric.
    • Choose a biometric option that is as universal and inclusive as possible. Employees may not have the same accessibilities, so an alternate approach may need to be considered.
    • Liaise with appropriate HR, IT, and legal staff to ensure that any captured PII data is managed appropriately and adheres to governance and compliance requirements.
  5. Never store passwords in your browser. Many browsers offer to save your passwords when you browse sites. While this option may seem convenient, it is poor password management. Threat actors could access these saved passwords by manipulating cookies to steal credentials or stealing the actual device. Password management solutions such as KeePass or LastPass securely store and encrypt passwords and passphrases, making it far more challenging for a threat actor to gain access to them.

Threat actors regularly steal and exploit users’ credentials, so it is critical to use strong and secure passwords and authentication mechanisms to protect access to your data. In 2021, credential abuse was the second-most common initial access vector identified during Secureworks incident response engagements.

And remember, the Secureworks Incident Response team is always available to help you.

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