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Security Worms IT

Poor Passwords A Worse Problem Than Poor Antivirus 247

dasButcher writes "Viruses and worms get all the headlines, but poor password management is a worse problem according to a new study by Channel Insider and CompTIA. As Larry Walsh writes in his Security Channel blog, VARs and security service providers say they find more problems with password management than antivirus applications when they do security assessments. While password problems are nothing new, Walsh and those posting on his blog correctly assert that users remain cavalier about passwords and businesses are doing too little to address this serious vulnerability."
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Poor Passwords A Worse Problem Than Poor Antivirus

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  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @03:47PM (#28997715) Homepage Journal
    In TFA the author complains about "sunflowers", people who have passwords on post-its stuck around their monitor frame. The thing about post-its is that 89% of last year's credit-card breaches originated from sources outside the companies. And there is no malware possible that can read what's written on a post-it note.
    • by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @03:50PM (#28997735)

      And there is no malware possible that can read what's written on a post-it note.

      Security cameras. If you know what to Google you can find all sorts of security cameras on the internet.

      Or just walk in and look yourself.

      • by exley ( 221867 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:19PM (#28998023) Homepage

        OK so I went and searched for "office security cameras" and that pretty much just turned up companies selling cameras. I then tried "office security cameras HOT XXX ACTION" and that DID yield me some results... But no passwords on sticky notes :( Rule 34 should kick in eventually, through, right?

        Seriously though, I'm guessing most office security cameras are too low-res and they give a wide-area view so as to make it pretty damn difficult to be able to get someone's PW that way.

        • by MadnessASAP ( 1052274 ) <> on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:36PM (#28998145)

          Try searching for "axis-cgi", you may be suprised what you can find.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Especially since jpeg/mpeg gets a large percentage of its compression through deleting high frequency detail during the DCT pass. So unless the note is very close to the camera, the text will disappear in the compression process!

          The thing that really is a pain is the IT admin insisting on monthly changes to the password. So you might use a strong passphrase (say 20 characters long) but in the end you use the minimum, and put it on a post-it note so you don't lock yourself out of the system. (And, since mos
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by brentonboy ( 1067468 )

        And there is no malware possible that can read what's written on a post-it note.

        Security cameras. If you know what to Google you can find all sorts of security cameras on the internet.

        Or just walk in and look yourself.

        Seriously? No security camera will have a resolution high enough to actually read what's written on a post it note, assuming it's even in focus. It's not like on TV where you can just "zoom in, and enhance." Probably the best you could get would be to see a vaguely "sunflower" shaped monitor, as described.

      • by plover ( 150551 ) *

        Unless the security camera is a foot or two from the post-it, or if the password is written in 1/4" black magic marker, it won't be visible. I saw this used in a real (not TV) court case where the defendant claimed he wasn't the perpetrator in the video because his tattoos weren't visible in the security camera footage. (His were fine blue lines that looked like home-made or prison tats.) Investigators recreated the scene in the convenience store using calibrated lines and demonstrated to the jury that

      • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @10:08PM (#28999885) Homepage
        As someone who does IT and computer work "in the field" for small local businesses in a small midwestern town, the "Just walk in and look" thing is more true than you might think. If you look like a clean-cut semi-geek with a laptop and an air of confidence, all you need to do is walk in.

        Go up to the bored and underpaid secretary/receptionist who doesn't really give a flock, and say you're there to fix the computer in the back, or to fix the printer, whatever. Most likely they'll say "yeah, sure, whatever" and let you go on because they don't care, don't know, and most places DID have problems with the computer/printer/whatever the day before, and she will assume the owner called you.

        Memory stick with a few choice apps, clickety click, and you can own the place whenever you want and nab whatever you want.

        Oh, and all the passwords are either on a post-it on the monitor, under the keyboard, or are some variant of Password. Or, everyone knows it because it's the dogs name and ALL the passwords are the same.

        "Oh, hey, can you give me the password real quick for this workstation right here?" (wants to be helpful and is embarrassed because they don't know jack about computers) "Sure, it's password123!"

        One time the manager of a chiropractic/PT place was giving me access to the server because she needed me to do something, and I watched her peck in the password at 1 WPM. The password was "SPRAIN". I about busted out laughing.

        Way too many places that should have security - lawer offices, medical offices, have open AP's and crap security. Actually, NO security. No backup, either. I'm turning things around as I go.
    • by KeithIrwin ( 243301 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:05PM (#28997901)

      I agree completely. I generally tell people that it's far, far, far better to have a strong password which you write down than a weak one which you can remember. Simply moving the post-its from the monitor to a locked desk drawer would do a lot to decrease the security risk of writing them down.

      It's also not even vaguely clear to me why people feel that regular password changes are helpful or a good idea. As far as I can see, all they do is make it tougher for users to use strong passwords (due to being unable to memorize them), thus leading to weaker passwords and less security. An uncompromised password is an uncompromised password. They don't go stale.

      Regular password changes don't help decrease the likelihood of a system being compromised, they just offer some mitigation in the event that it has been compromised. However, given that an attacker probably will need only a few hours or days to slurp plenty of information or do plenty of damage, rotating passwords monthly isn't even likely to mitigate the compromise much.

      So the trade-off being made is that the system is now more likely to be compromised due to weaker passwords but in return, there's small chance that an attack will be stopped after the system has been compromised due to the password changing. That doesn't seem like a good trade-off to me. My best guess is that this advice is left over from a time when some systems had shared passwords. The regular password change was so that people who had been given the password to a system to do one thing wouldn't have access forever. Some places even used daily passwords so that they could give someone access for one day, but have their access reset the next day. But that advice has been carried over to individual user passwords in systems which use better access control technologies to manage access.

      These sort of reports don't stop and analyze what constitutes good password management. They just say "Passwords should be changed regularly. It must be true because everyone is saying it. This company doesn't change their passwords regularly, so they have poor password management." As such, they aren't really a good assessment of the problem.

      • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <> on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:18PM (#28997999) Homepage

        Simply moving the post-its from the monitor to a locked desk drawer would do a lot to decrease the security risk of writing them down.

        Or better yet, store it in your wallet. A place that is save enough for your money, credit cards and car keys should be save enough for a bunch of passwords. One could of course go one step further and get rid of passwords altogether and use a secure authentication device instead, with USB being commonplace everywhere that shouldn't be to hard to just use a USB device that does the authentication and encryption in a secure and easy to use manner.

        The core problem isn't that users chose insecure passwords, thats just human nature, the core problem is simply that hardware and software developers haven't build systems that work well enough with this "flaw" of human nature.

        • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @05:01PM (#28998351)

          Or better yet, store it in your wallet. A place that is save enough for your money, credit cards and car keys should be save enough for a bunch of passwords.

          Huh? That's not very good advice. If someone steals my wallet, they get access to whatever cash I have in it, and some easily-replaceable plastic. If I report the loss/theft promptly, my liability is limited.

          On the other hand, if I put passwords to my important online services there (such as my bank account, 401K, etc.) I could find those assets gone forever. If I have passwords to my company's systems there, they also could be compromised, and it would be my fault for storing those passwords in such a readily accessible place. A wallet is not secure, was not intended to be secure, and is something people carry around out of necessity, and the thought of losing it is a source of constant worry. Plus which, there are people who specialize in relieving us of the burden of carrying said items, you know ... they're called "pickpockets."

          Also, the problem with carrying arround a "secure authentication device" is that very few services support them. Well, not in the U.S. anyway, and that's where I live. And even if you are able to use one, you'll probably still require a PIN of some kind. Probably not a good idea to put that in your wallet either.

          Regardless, you are absolutely correct that people not thinking things through and concerning themselves solely with convenience is human nature, Me, I use difficult passwords and I make the effort to a. memorize them and b. change them now and then. But that's me: few computer users are willing to work that hard, and I also agree with you that they really shouldn't have to. However, the core problem isn't so much hardware and software developers: the problem is that the people in charge of the financial systems in many countries just don't see the investment in secure transaction handling to be worth the money. It's cheaper to pay their insurance underwriters and just charge off the fraud. Of course, that fact that some number of citizens get totally fucked over every year is just acceptable collateral damage.

          The United States' banking system is horribly insecure at pretty much every level, and I don't see that improving any time soon because it would cost a lot of money. A good first step might be getting rid of Diebold (I mean, come on, a Windows-based ATM?) but I don't see that happening soon either.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by plover ( 150551 ) *

            You can certainly take a little responsibility for your own security. You don't have to write down the whole password, or you can obscure it in some way that you remember. If your password is aRgLeBaRgLe123 you can just write down "aRgLeBaRgLe" and remember that you glue 123 to the end of all your passwords, or write down "arglebargle123" knowing that you always cApItAlIzE eVeRy oThEr lEtTeR. For most people, the people who have physical access to their screens are less likely to be sophisticated attack

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Tom9729 ( 1134127 )

            I don't think it's really that big of a problem. First of all if you have passwords written down in your wallet and someone steals it, they're still going to have to figure out your username (unless you wrote that) and what password is for what service, what bank you use, etc. In the meantime you could just change all of your passwords to be safe.

            Of course this wouldn't work if you didn't know your wallet was stolen (if they copied your passwords and returned it before you knew it was missing), but it seems

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) *

              There's nothing wrong with ATMs running Windows, OS/2 or whatever as long as it's set up right.

              But they're not. Many are run through the public Internet (and there are many known instances of them having been compromised, either directly by thieves or indirectly through worm infestations) and furthermore Diebold is not a company that can be trusted to set them up correctly. That's also pretty clear, given their track record. And I disagree with you that there's nothing wrong with an ATM running Windows. In fact, I don't really know where to begin a response to that statement.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It's also not even vaguely clear to me why people feel that regular password changes are helpful or a good idea.

        I spent time doing tech support for an ISP. As part of my job, I needed to log into a web page. The server was inside the office firewall, and nobody outside it could log in. Not only were we required to use ten-character passwords (Upper, lower, numeric and punctuation all required.) they expired every sixty days. There was no possible way for an outside attacker to reach that web server, n

        • ...our boxes were locked down so badly that telling the browser that the cert's OK didn't survive a reboot, meaning you had to go through the same song-and-dance several times a day.

          I would have asked you if you worked for Creative Labs, but the ISP bit shot that down. :-)

          What you describe is what I went through at CL.
          Knowledge Base web pages that did not have the URLs whitelisted in the proxy we used, boxes locked down tight**, 8 minute maximum call time allowed per call for tech support...including the 2-3 minutes needed for the required interrogation about the 'problem' product, etc....

          **except for the USB ports!
          I put Damn Small Linux in a bootable partition on a USB stick to get a

      • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @05:22PM (#28998523) Homepage Journal

        Regular password changes don't help decrease the likelihood of a system being compromised, they just offer some mitigation in the event that it has been compromised. However, given that an attacker probably will need only a few hours or days to slurp plenty of information or do plenty of damage, rotating passwords monthly isn't even likely to mitigate the compromise much.

        Many of the really big credit card attacks (TJX, Network Solutions) took place over several months (or years), harvesting on-line transaction data. We have no way of knowing if the passwords were rotated during the course of the attack if that would have shut down the attackers. Network Solutions was PCI DSS rated, which means they had a password rotation policy in place, and their attack continued from March through June. We can probably assume the attackers seized the first opportunity to create a back door that they could use in the event the passwords were changed, so a rotating password would have had no effect on them.

        • by rts008 ( 812749 )

          How I wish I had not used up my mod points!

          I tip my hat to you, sir!
          That is one of the most concise, insightful, and informative comments on this thread. Very well done.

          We can probably assume the attackers seized the first opportunity to create a back door that they could use in the event the passwords were changed, so a rotating password would have had no effect on them.

          When you are pwned, you are owned. When you are owned, you are pwned.
          You can either admit it and change it, or hook your ankles behind your ears and enjoy it. [think: goatse]

      • by omb ( 759389 )
        And, in case if compromise, you can force a password change when you havve finished the forensics.
      • I agree.

        AFAIK, the idea that passwords have to be changed in intervals from one to three months comes from the old days back when many terminal users used one Unix system that had /etc/passwd files. These were crypt() hashed so anybody could read them and start cracking them. One day some TLA calculated how much time it would take an attacker with serious resources (or better, what was regarded as a serious resourece back then) to brute force crack a password. They came up with something like "a crypt hash

      • by Ronald Dumsfeld ( 723277 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @06:42PM (#28998999)
        Good password policy...

        Strong, not written down, regularly changed

        Pick Two.
      • "I agree completely. I generally tell people that it's far, far, far better to have a strong password which you write down than a weak one "

        The real problem is that there needs to be password software like AI roboform installed NO ONE and I mean NO ONE wants to remember their password what they should have is a LOCAL password {on a local machine, i.e. AI roboform) which then they can press a button that types in a safe big ass randomized password which they can backup.

        Let's be frank passwords are a pain in

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      And many of the "sunflowers" aren't due to really inept people (a' la the secretary for the Principal in Wargames...) it's because of TOO stringent password requirements that insist upon upper AND lower case coupled with at least one, if not several numbers in the password.

      It doesn't make it more secure doing that- it tends to make it less os.

      • Where I worked on traffic systems we had strict password requirements. Lives were at stake, after all. It never bothered us. We got used to memorising new strict passwords every month. It just takes practice and we had a small group to train up.

        Then one day I had to help out a user on the corporate network. Their passwords were harder than ours and changed every week. The guy I needed to see wasn't there but that was okay because their office had a standard password based on the year, month and week numbe
  • by musefrog ( 1471169 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @03:47PM (#28997717)
    I think one day, we'll look back at this period of needing umpteen different 8-16 character one capital letter one alphanumeric character passwords (changed each month!) with the same horror we now regard the times when the best solution to a serious leg injury was to cut the freaking thing off. With no anasthetic. Maybe it's not directly analogous, but it's just as barbaric and wrong and crazy!
    • The ridiculously short interval in most places is a huge part of the problem. It's asking people to do insecure things to make it more convenient. I read someone advocating lately to write your passwords down, but keep them in your wallet. Not a bad idea if you don't have the electronic means to do the same.

      The best long term solution is probably some sort of revocable 2 factor authentication.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Artifakt ( 700173 )

        The wallet idea works safer if you don't write the password, but an 'un-mutated' version of the password, and you know the rule you use to mutate all your passwords. If you can disguise what's written down so it doesn't look like a password, even better. Jot some name (Lucinda Mott), and address (1630 N. Highway 33, Mesa City) on the back of a business card, with a note like 'carries Valmont brand 3/8ths tubing - closes early Fridays - call Dodge city branch', and let anyone who steals your wallet guess whi

    • One day, we'll use a big private key (from a microsd card or an RFID) to authenticate instead of relying on a puny little 8-16 alphanumeric password.

      It's already implemented in Vista at least.. you can log in from different authentication providers like a fingerprint scanner or a smart card or a web cam.

      And for remote administration it's even better. You don't need to be there to put in a smart card; you just handshake with your key over the network.

      • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:54PM (#28998289)
        And Linux has had Pluggable Authentication Modules since 1996. It currently supports, among other things, smart cards, fingerprints, passwords and and a bunch of different hardware crypto devices.
        • Thank you, good sir!
          Since MS has such a dominance, hopefully they will keep copying the features of GNU/Linux and keep improving their own OS at the same time. Win for all!

          *wakes up*
          Meh, just a dream...

          I was not sure enough about it to post what you did, but thought so.
          I castigate myself for being too lazy to research it, but thanks to you, I am saved.
          Beware the Tux, do not take the Penguin/Taz for granted!

        • PAM _does not help_. In fact, it reverses the problem, and makes various passwords able to access your account, especially in a carelessly configured multiple OS environment, all able to work on your poor victim of a Linux system.

          Please allow me to be a serious geek here for a bit.

          _Kerberos_ solved this problem years ago for user authentication. LDAP coupled with it, well-managed, provides the user and account management. Both are fundamental to Active Directory, oddly enough, which can support quite a lot

      • One day, we'll use a big private key (from a microsd card or an RFID) to authenticate instead of relying on a puny little 8-16 alphanumeric password.

        The RFID will be embedded in your palm at birth. Can't honestly say I am looking forward to that.

    • by arose ( 644256 )
      Takes me a few times typing in a new 16 character password (lowercase, capitals, numbers, symbols) to remember it. The trick is to type from memory and only use a note/password manager to refresh it, not copy. Easiest way is to encrypt a file with your new password and train it before setting it for the system.
      • My job once was to set the new password on all 40 or so terminal servers. Made it easy to memorise the new password.
  • by XPeter ( 1429763 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @03:50PM (#28997733) Homepage
    It's password! How ingenious is that?

    Oh, wait...
    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      I would have guessed at '12345' or 'abc123' first. Forth choice would have been 'computer', then '123456', '1234', 'a1b2c3', 'qwerty', '123', 'xxx', 'money', then finally 'test'.

      Passwords are obsolete. They have been for years.
  • security service providers say they find more problems with password management than antivirus applications when they do security assessments.

    The important words being "security assessments." In real-life impact viruses are far more serious an issue; I know many, many people who have had their computers infected with viruses than have had their passwords stolen. In fact, I can't really remember if anyone I know has ever had a password stolen.
    • I broke my arm a week ago. The doctor told me there was a wait on xray because they had a virus. He asked me what I did for a living (software engineer) and assumed incorrectly I was an IT person. He asked my opinion about the virus issue and I said it shouldn't happen on a properly managed system.

      When I got home I had the xrays sent to me on CD. The disk was loaded with DLL files. Presumably the code for reading the data. Fortunately gimp reads those files so I was ok.

      Its no bloody wonder they have a v
  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @03:53PM (#28997775) Journal
    <Cthon98> hey, if you type in your pw, it will show as stars
    <Cthon98> ********* see!
    <AzureDiamond> hunter2
    <AzureDiamond> doesnt look like stars to me
    <Cthon98> <AzureDiamond> *******
    <Cthon98> thats what I see
    <AzureDiamond> oh, really?
    <Cthon98> Absolutely
    <AzureDiamond> you can go hunter2 my hunter2-ing hunter2
    <AzureDiamond> haha, does that look funny to you?
    <Cthon98> lol, yes. See, when YOU type hunter2, it shows to us as *******
    <AzureDiamond> thats neat, I didnt know IRC did that
    <Cthon98> yep, no matter how many times you type hunter2, it will show to us as *******
    <AzureDiamond> awesome!
    <AzureDiamond> wait, how do you know my pw?
    <Cthon98> er, I just copy pasted YOUR ******'s and it appears to YOU as hunter2 cause its your pw
    <AzureDiamond> oh, ok.
  • Companies need to implement a 'good' policy. I've seen policies that enforced only a 5 character password. I've seen one policy that was a minimum of 8 characters, at least 1 number, and at least 1 special character. Sure, /.'s could handle that, but I once knew an administrative assistant (I forget if secretary is PC or not any more) that kept forgetting how to cut and paste. Great lady, just wasn't computer friendly. Another thing- if you can't remember your passwords, at least stick the Post-It note

    • I used to stick post its with things that weren't my password on the underside of the desk drawer. I'd write sloppy and deliberately ambiguous too, so whomever found them would have to make several tries to test all combinations of what it could be.

  • Arora (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) < minus herbivore> on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:00PM (#28997833)

    It's good to see Arora getting some more attention now. I've been using it now for more than half a year and I must say it's the first webbrowser I have actually liked in several. I would definetly consider it the best OSS webbrowser on linux right now, particularly if you're running KDE (although Arora is desktop agnostic, it is Qt). I've been fed up with Firefox's bloat (ever try comparing Firefox and Seamonkey these days? Guess which is heavier...) for some time and Arora is a nice change from that.

  • Biometrics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_macman ( 874383 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:03PM (#28997855)

    What's wrong with biometrics? Maybe somebody could explain to me why more keyboards don't ship with biometrics built in? Instead of remembering 25 different passwords each with their own ridiculous rules you could just scan your finger. It could even work when you want to make CC purchase or login to your email.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      What? You don't watch mythbusters?

      Mebbe someone with MythTV has a copy of the episode with the fingerprint scanner.

    • Re:Biometrics (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hal The Computer ( 674045 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:18PM (#28998011)

      Okay, I'll bite. Because you're too cheap. Seriously, biometrics that actually work (are hard to fool) are going to make your keyboard several hundred to several thousand dollars more expensive.

      Those fingerprint readers that come for "free" build into laptops are snake oil.
      Some educational reading: [] []

    • by Macrat ( 638047 )

      you could just scan your finger.

      And when someone decides to cut your finger off?

    • Re:Biometrics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KeithIrwin ( 243301 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:39PM (#28998183)

      The problem with biometrics is that they aren't secrets and they aren't changeable. As such, they're fine for low-security in-person authentication. For example, I've heard of a restaurant which had their wait staff punch in by scanning their finger prints. That's fine. But if you use it to control access to the VPN, then that's problematic due to the non-changeability.

      Here's why:
      Let's assume that you are an employee who runs Windows at home. You keep up with the latest patches and don't do anything stupid. You probably even run Firefox. But still, someone manages to slip through an unpatched bug and infect your system. It can happen to just about anyone. They then install a back door and start logging what's going on in your system. They notice that you connect to a VPN so they start sniffing your USB traffic so that they can appear as you (recording either your password or your fingerprint). Now they can get into your company's VPN. It's compromised. Fortunately, your IT guy is on the ball. At 11am the next day, you get a call from your network admin asking you if you are signed into the VPN because he expects that you're in the office, but you also appear to be signed in remotely. You confirm that you are not signed in and the two of you realize that you've been hacked. He temporarily disables your access. You go home, clean up your home computer (assuming that you can) or bring it in to have them clean it up, and then it's time to give you access back.

      Now here's where things diverge. If you've used a password, you just have to change your password to a new one, and it's secure again. Your fingerprint isn't changeable. Obviously, you can switch to a different finger, but that's a limited strategy since you've only got 10 of them (well, maybe slightly more or less if you were born with extra fingers or have lost some in accidents). I suppose once you're out of fingers, you could use toes, but I doubt most users would be willing to. This becomes especially problematic if any non-hashed versions of things are stored (as often must be done for fuzzy matching) because if the database gets compromised, every single person would need to change to a new finger. You also wouldn't want to use the same finger for your work password as you use for your bank. So, a total of 10 may seem like a lot, but over the course of a lifetime, you're almost certain to run out. Other biometrics are even more problematic since people have at most two irises, only one voice, only two sets of hand geometry, etc.

      The non-secrecy can also be a pretty big issue, although that one usually only comes up with insider attacks since they generally have to know you in person. Let's say you use the fingerprints for controlling access to the company database. Now, Alice is a supervisor in payroll accounting and can change people's salaries in the database. Eve works sales and is clever and unscrupulous. Eve invites Alice over to dinner, and after she's left, lifts her fingerprints from her wine glass or the glass table top or almost any other smooth surface she's touched. Heck, she might even be able to get it from a door knob at work if she's careful. Once Eve has the fingerprint data she can then log-in over the network to the database.

      The banking situation would be even tougher because you would expose your fingerprint when you use an ATM. All an attacker would have to do is wipe the buttons and/or fingerprint scanner clean before you use it and then lift your print from the machine when you're done.

      Alice can keep her password in her head, or if it's too hard to keep in her head, she can write it down and keep it in a locked drawer in the office. This isn't absolute security, especially since keys can be duplicated from pictures of them, but would at least require that Eve physical break into the office. But still, her password at least starts out as a secret unknown to anyone else. Her fingerprints are not secrets. Using your fingerprint as your password is like writing you pas

  • I have an idea. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:07PM (#28997913)

    I'd like to make a proposition to everyone on slashdot.

    For the greater good of humanity, we need to employ some social engineering. I suggest that all of us stop referring to it as a "password" and start referring to it as a "passphrase". With a little luck, it'll catch on and people will start using phrases instead of just words. This tiny change should cause people to create easily remembered passes that are in excess of 10 characters long.

    • I've come accross one (badly coded) site where that stategy backfired on me. I typed my standard use-it-for-non-critical-sites 15 character passphrase - all seemed well and good. But then, when I tried to log in, it kept telling me I had the wrong password.

      Turns out their form only saved the first 12 or so characters - but they hadn't limited how many characters you could type into the field, so I didn't know I'd typed too many. And guess what - the login form accepted more than 12 characters! Hence my
      • by KeithIrwin ( 243301 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:49PM (#28998245)

        I use PasswordMaker [] for website passwords (as everyone should) with a 16 character password length. I've probably run into a half dozen sites which have silently removed the last 4 or 8 characters, cutting it down to 8 or 12 characters. I've also run into several which strip out "special" characters (single or double quotes, slashes, spaces, parentheses, or whatever else they feel threatened by) in an asymmetric manner. That is, they remove them from the password before they store it in the database but not when you type it in or vice versa. It's a real pain.

        I've also had other sites which simply reject my password because of excessive length or because it contains "special" characters. Any place which can't accept any password I give them is doing a terrible job of securing their users accounts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Headrick ( 25371 )

      Agreed, but unfortunately it's not that easy. I just started a new job and got my AMEX corporate card in the mail today. The online account had a maximum password length of 8 characters with no special characters allowed. A phrase would never work when we have companies that are still limiting their passwords to 8 characters.

    • by dylan_- ( 1661 )

      I was about to post exactly the same thing. Passwords are the problem. They should always be referred to as passphrases in all documentation and the part on "how to choose a good passphrase" should suggest that if the person knows another language, they should make use of it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lgw ( 121541 )

        No, no, and no.

        Stop making life hard on users for no real gain in security. Make a system that is secure with a 4-digit PIN. It's easy, and there's really no reason not to use two-factor authentication these days except (a) you don't really care about security, or (b) you actively hate your users, and a passphrase is as close as you're allow to come to hitting them with a hammer whenever they log in.

        I realize (b) is common, but it still doesn't make for good security.

  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:09PM (#28997923) Journal
    The author parrots out the common fallacy that passwords have to changed frequently:

    Even worse, good password management requires frequently changing passwords - every 30 to 60 days is the standard. Rotating passwords more frequently--every 15 days or so--is possible, but the panelist say it creates more of management and user headache that leads to more sunflowers by users who's memories can't keep up with changes.

    Until people get over this misconception and communicate to their users: "give yourself a good password. I won't ask you to change it so you can pick a strong password that you will remember and that will be the end of memorising passwords" Then stress what makes a strong password.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dotgain ( 630123 )

      Password rotation is dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb. At least half of my users would have mentioned the annoyance of changing passwords, many tell me the exact process they use to circumvent it while doing so.
      But my hands are tied, because twice a year the auditors come in, and if I don't have a password rotation policy he'll tell my boss, who'll then tell me to implement it. I've tried to reason with him, but passing the audit was more important. Beancounters in charge of IT FTW.

    • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @05:10PM (#28998435)
      Just assign the damn things! When I was in college (about thirty years ago, now) the school's mainframe would assign users a strong password when you got your account. Choosing a poor one wasn't an option. The system did manage to come up with interesting and easy-to-memorize combinations, I must say. It was actually fairly impressive: I never saw anyone writing down their password because they didn't need to. However, they weren't just random combinations of characters, and they weren't subject to a dictionary attack.

      Depending upon individuals to come up with strong passwords is utterly hopeless: you tell them what their password is. However, you can't just give them something like "pz039yq53t" because they'll get frustrated and stick it on a Post-IT note. Come up with an algorithm that generates strong but easy-to-remember passwords and you'll be in good shape.
  • by Kligat ( 1244968 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:12PM (#28997947)
    When the password is the name of the computer owner's son, daughter, or significant other, why is it that the main character never has to fiddle around altering names by replacing random letters with 1337 or @, $, and # signs?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Script writers do that for a very good reason: timing considerations. A TV drama has a one-hour time slot, minus time for commercials, opening and closing; probably about 40 minutes or so for the story. Fiddling around with creative misspellings of names takes time and doesn't move the story along. It's the same reason, BTW, why when somebody on TV turns on the news, the story they're looking for is just starting.
    • As far as I can tell, the all use the same password, this one: *******
  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:14PM (#28997969)

    The article repeats the same Myths of password security that we have been repeating for the last thirty years. Let me review them for you:
      - Password Length is important
      - Password Complexity is key (e.g. A-Z with at least one special, one number)
      - Password Expiration is important

    Like all good myths these have elements of truth in them but fail to really hit the nail on what the problems actually are, or namely:
      - Strong login auditing is important (failed attempts, unusual patterns, etc)
      - Login speed should be throttled (e.g. No 60/guesses per minute)
      - Failed logins should be capped (e.g. Login wrong five times? Consult technical support)

    Now we are talking about password security. You can also throw on a five length minimum. Now even if your password was "password" they would still find it extremely difficult to compromise the system since it would be slow and would break after the first five. If you tried to spread out the attempts over several weeks (making it slower still) the audit logs should be alerting the administrator to 14/failed attempts per week from China.

    • by arose ( 644256 )
      DoS, you'll either be stuck with people flooding support and not getting anything done, or you will drop part of those blocks, after that it will be back to password strength.
      • This is why both username and password need to be changeable by admins.

        root and admin are never root or admin on my boxes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blincoln ( 592401 )

      Now we are talking about password security. You can also throw on a five length minimum. Now even if your password was "password" they would still find it extremely difficult to compromise the system since it would be slow and would break after the first five.

      The reason length is important is because there are ways to crack most types of password that don't involve going through the same interface that an interactive user would.

      For example, on Windows you can get ahold of the password hashes either off of a

      • by Manip ( 656104 )

        If they have your password hashes, shows over.

        Anything under eight digits can be broken almost instantly and asking users for a password longer than eight digits is just frankly unreasonable. Heck, in your scenario, they could just reset all the passwords and access accounts freely.

        As far as DoSing an account or accounts, that is entirely a different security problem and one you should address with different measures like isolation and logging.

        • by arose ( 644256 )

          As far as DoSing an account or accounts, that is entirely a different security problem and one you should address with different measures like isolation and logging.

          Strong passwords don't matter, just lock attackers out. Lockout policy induced DoS attacks don't matter, just isolate the attackers out. Just hire someone to give access based on visual identification and be done with it if you don't actually want to address computer security...

      • by Coriolis ( 110923 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @07:05PM (#28999145)

        Oh, come on.

        If you're in a pure Windows 2000 or greater environment, you can turn off NTLM and LM altogether. This reduces you to sniffing Kerberos packets, which are substantially harder to crack - you're talking hours for a single weak password. And you've still got to be on the same network segment.

        As for getting the hashes off the domain controller, by what magic do you intend to obtain sufficient remote access to a properly-secured DC? That's the equivalent of saying that if you don't use shadow passwords it's really easy to crack UN*X. Well, duh.

  • Instead encourage them to do so and teach them to properly manage them. There are many possibilities: password-safe programs, little black books to be kept in the user's wallet, lockable desk drawers, elctronic one-time pads . . . (even post-it notes on monitors in some circumstances). First, however, you must accept that the average user is never going to memorize any password more complex than a minor variation on the name of his favorite pet. Get that idea out of your head.

  • No Surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by virtual_mps ( 62997 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:17PM (#28997991)

    This is probably because most security assessments aren't very good and don't correlate well to an organization's actual security problems. At least the assessments help people get rid of all that extra money they have.

  • by mayberry42 ( 1604077 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:17PM (#28997993)

    I remember when working for a major financial firm in Boston, they had the most ridiculous password policies for each password. We had to have at least four or five different passwords according to what you needed to access, each with their own rules and limitations (size, characters allowed etc...). Not only that, but each password expired in different intervals. So basically every week, you'd have to change at least one password making the whole damn thing impossible to remember.So, what did people do? They wrote them down in little sticky-notes. Sure, I came up with my own schemes to facilitate remembering them, but nevertheless a forgotten password was bound to happen. It amazes me how paranoid firms are about some policies, yet leave the back door wide open due to such stupidity

    Due to a recent identity-theft scare I had the other day, it made me realize the importance of safe-guarding the data with good passwords. Since then, I've used KeePass to generate and store all my 20-digit random passwords that I've since never have to remember (a backup, of course, is constantly made and stored in a safe place). Either way, I'm no security expert, but it seems to me an approach like this would be much more sensible than inconsistent password policies that expire randomly. Just my $0.02

    • by Macrat ( 638047 )
      And in contrast, I worked at a company where all new employees were given the default password of "welcome." Needless to say, over time I learned that most employees never bothered to change that password.
    • I'm a sometimes tax preparer who has to have a separate password for the individual and corporate programs, separate ones for two related e-mail accounts, separate ones for the point of sale machines in each office, additional separate ones if I have to reconcile the day's receipts to accounting, a separate one to access the office time clock system if I have to correct an hourly worker's punches, a couple of separate, very very long ones for underlying Kerberos support if I have to reboot the back room ser

  • by resistant ( 221968 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:25PM (#28998065) Homepage Journal

    We all know most people will never use "proper" passwords, let alone "properly", quite aside from offices in which ridiculous password management policies drive people to drink^h^h^h^h^h simply writing their passwords on Post-it notes stuck to their monitors. Why not make the best of a bad situation by only insisting on reasonable passwords changed no more than once per six months, complete with freely available "wallet-sized password booklets", but which are accompanied by other methods such as once-per-session typing pattern analysis [] verifications or cheap magnetic stripe cards? (The obvious security problem with a magnetic stripe card in the same wallet as a password booklet, for example, can be ameliorated by insisting that the magnetic stripe cards be kept in small employee lockers, and never allowed off-premises).

    The point is that a little imagination is all that is needed to make security reasonably good or at least acceptable, given that the weak link will always be the kind of muppets who insist on shoving bricks between doorjambs and ultra-high-security triple-locked doors if they are at all allowed. Sure, any security method can be defeated, but it's far easier to educate (okay, frighten) people into not removing stuff from company premises (the magnetic stripe cards) or to make them perform once-a-day monkey tricks (the typing pattern analysis verifications) than it is to make them stop writing stuff down in very insecure ways. Security will tend to be more even, and problem employees will be easier to spot.

    The old saying comes to mind, "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @04:36PM (#28998157) Homepage Journal
    Listen up, paranoid policy people everywhere: setting up a "strong password policy" is NOT the solution. Typically this involves forcing the user to choose a password that's more than ten characters, has punctuation and numbers and mixed case in it, and forces a password change every 30 days.

    You know what that does?

    It forces people to write their passwords down. On paper.

    With the password written down, it's very easy to "crack" because it's sitting there, "in the clear" on a dead tree.
  • This is exactly right, and PostIt's should be a firing ofence, at __all__ levels up to and including CEO, given Sarbannes Oxley, next __obvious__ passwords must be screened out, and changing passwords/ageing should __not__ be required.

    My singleton laptop often faces the internet un-firewalled but the bastard ssh attacks cannot do password-guessing against really secure passwords like "1", which I have never seen tried, but it will now ;-), or "Bawrinced", generated by apg.

    People can learn a __few__ strong p
    • Uhm, you said 'finally' twice and then you still kept going. Maybe you have some good ideas there, but present them as you just did to even highly intelligent employees, and you will get about 3% compliance.

  • It would be interesting to see a solution. I have easily 25 different logins in use for my job. At many places I am not allowed to choose my own login and then they base it on my name and each does that in a different way. Some add numbers to it. Some are shared logins.

    Some I can set the password, some I may change the password and some I must change the password. The shared ones can not be changed as others then would not be able to use it and then others I must ask to change and yet others I can not chang

    • Well, for the ones which you can't change the password for, you should probably just write those down and then secure the piece of paper in a locked box. For the ones which you can change the password for, you should use PasswordMaker []. It takes in a URL string and a master password and uses that to generate a site-specific password. Just make up an appropriate URL for the different accounts (it doesn't have to be real, just memorable). And I know you're going to say "but I can't install software". Ther

  • There are two problems I see with creating and remembering passwords. First off many people simply do not understand the threat of weak passwords and blissfully use the name of their children or pets as a password. Second, people do not understand how to effectively create and remember strong passwords. I honestly believe that there should be a password or network security seminar that each person/employee should attend at their place of work. It doesn't have to be long, just enough time to explain why pass

  • Everything is a worse problem than poor antivirus -- because viruses are so rare, if you're sensible.

    In my past 16 years of running Windows machines with IE, I haven't once had my antivirus report anything. The standard precautions are enough -- use Proxomitron or don't visit dodgy websites; don't run pirate software; don't open attachments unless you were expecting them and you trust the competence of the sender.

    I have had "antivirus" problems where the antivirus software interacts badly with the OS, e.g.

  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @05:30PM (#28998587)

    My Etrade accounts have a traditional password with the requirement of an RSA token. This seems to be a great solution to the password problem.

    The first part of the password is easy to remember, the second is changed every 60 seconds by the token.

    It is a bit less convenient than a standard password, but that is the price to be paid to secure a bank account.


  • 1Password (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davebarnes ( 158106 ) on Saturday August 08, 2009 @05:41PM (#28998649)

    Strong, weak.
    Your choice.
    Use 1Password t manage them all.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    that's something an idiot would have on his luggage!!!

  • (Score:2, Interesting)

    Having studied this issue at length professionally, supporting client-offices: the best solution I have found was using the web service Passpack ( Every single requirement I was faced with, Passpack has met from a security standpoint.

    On a user-friendly perspective, I'm having trouble with training folks like my mother how to be more secure with greater user-friendliness, and I am still looking forward to Passpack improving on their initial one-click-button; but essentially passpack is the

  • Keychain Access (Score:3, Informative)

    by trudyscousin ( 258684 ) * on Saturday August 08, 2009 @08:54PM (#28999603)

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned this yet, but Mac OS X has an application called "Keychain Access." Keychains store private keys, certificates, and arbitrary notes securely. I use one to store my passwords to all my e-mail and web accounts. They're encrypted using Triple DES.

    Not only that, but it can generate passwords for you. Tell it how many characters you want, and whether the password should be memorable (comprised of dictionary words and a short string of numbers), letters and numbers, numbers only, something called "FIPS-181 compliant," or random. You can choose from the ones it generates from a pop-up menu, and if you don't like any of them, it can generate some more. Whatever password you choose, there's a gauge that tells you how strong it is.

    I have to use it occasionally to look up a password to an infrequently visited web page. Entering my user password (that is, the one for my account on my computer) will unlock any one that is stored on the keychain.

    Is it easy to use? Kind of, sort of; it takes a few seconds and more than a few mouse clicks to retrieve a password. Safari (perhaps Firefox as well, but I don't know) can be configured to remember your login information for a given page, and though it stores this information in the login keychain, the problem with Safari's implementation is that it works for some pages and not others, and doesn't require you to provide your user password--not exactly the most secure arrangement.

    No one's ever compromised this scheme, as far as I know. Yet. Meanwhile, it works pretty well for me.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"