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Finally, the Mainstream Endorses Passwords!

By Dan Hadaway | Friday, January 22, 2010 - Leave a Comment

The New York Times recently posted an article about passwords that you might want to share with your team. The title says it all . . . “If Your Password Is 123456, Just Make It HackMe” by Ashlee Vance. What I really like is the sidebar listing the most common passwords.

Not only is the sidebar interesting, it’s also quite funny!

The author does a good job of explaining why people who refuse to use strong passwords are setting themselves up for a big disappointment. She also has a great metaphor in that weak passwords is like leaving your key under the doormat. We’re really fooling ourselves if we think that somehow criminals won’t think to look under the doormat!

The well-written article does miss a couple of opportunities that you might want to add if you forward it to your team. It falls a bit short in not introducing the concept of cracker software, which is a missed opportunity to motivate users. Meanwhile, it also fails to explain what actually makes a strong password, so I’ll do that as a reminder in our next Vigilize tweet.

So you don’t have to visit the subject twice, here’s a sneak preview:

You must use strong passwords to beat cracker software, which is software that bad guys used to guess passwords really fast.

A strong password has six factors:

    1) Numbers like 1234…
    2) Upper case letters like ABCD…
    3) Lower case letters like efgh…
    4) Special characters like @$%^…
    5) At least eight characters long
    6) No dictionary words.

Feel free to copy that into an e-mail to your employees. The last factor . . . no dictionary words . . . . be sure to point out that cracker software gets through the dictionary in less than 20 seconds. Thus the password: America#1 is only a three character password. Though it has five of the six factors, it can be guessed by cracker software in less than a minute.

Oh . . . the article . . . it’s by Ashlee Vance and you get to it here!


Posted by Dan Hadaway CISA, CISM
Managing Partner
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