Balancing the Sharing of Information

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Security Authors: Ambuj Kumar, Shelly Palmer, Slavik Markovich, Elizabeth White, Greg Ness

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Blog Post

Wild Ways People Remember Their Passwords [#Security]

And why breaches are likely because of them

By Dean Wiech

Everyone has done it, used some kind of wild way to remember user names and passwords. Let’s face it, the rules for managing passwords is overwhelming. People are required to remember numerous sets of credentials for all of the systems and applications they need to access their job and personal life, but it’s often too difficult to remember them all.

In addition, passwords often are required to be complex with several different symbols and characters, and they often need to be changed every month or so. Given all of the rules and parameters, how is anyone supposed to keep track, and remember, all of this information on top of all the work they need to complete, PIN codes they need to recall and every other detail that takes up much needed bandwidth?

How do most people remember their passwords? Chances are they keep all of their pass codes in some type of non-secure method to remember them. Given my line of work with clients facing complex password issues, I’ve witnessed many wild ways in which end users use to remember passwords. Frighteningly so, some people even believe that their methods for password “storage” are safe and don’t realize that they are actually putting their organizations at risk.

Though organizational leaders may think that requiring employees to use complex passwords that get changed often is making their network secure, reality is this is often counterintuitive and leads employees to user unsecure methods.

Here are just some of wildest ways I’ve seen people store their passwords:

  1. Since employees feel they have to constantly login, many folks keep their credentials in front of them, written on Post-It notes, pasted to their computer screen in plain sight of passersby. That just makes it a lot easier for hackers to gain access to critical information.
  2. Some people think that if they hide their passwords, this will keep their information more secure. Many employees, however, actually keep their password sheets in their desk drawer or under their keyboards, falsely assuming no one will just open the drawer or move the keyboard and take a peek.
  3. Recently, one of our employees visited the doctor’s office and saw that the receptionist actually had her passwords listed on a recipe card atop the desk next to her monitor in clear view of everyone coming and going. Next to that card were instructions – step by step — for accessing all of her accounts.
  4. Some people even use an invention that they believe is helping them keep their passwords safe: A type of notebook that looks like a phone book allowing them to write down their passwords and organize them. Sure, this is good for organization, but what happens when someone finds the notebook and has access to all of the credentials?

Chances are, many employees in virtually every organization use these methods, but these strategies can cause security risks for any organization. Luckily, though, there are easy ways to stop employees from using such unsecure methods.

One way is with a simple single sign-on solution. An SSO allows employees to create a single set of credentials for all of their systems and applications, eliminating the need to write down passwords or use other unsecure methods for storing their information. Employees simply log in with their credentials and thereafter are authenticated in each of their applications automatically after they are launched.

So, while it may be funny to read how employees remember their passwords, it won’t be funny when your organization faces a security breach because of it.

Dean Wiech is managing director of Tools4ever, a global provider of identity and access management solutions.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com