About Us | Contact Us
View Cart

Risk-Based Authentication Practices

By Dan Hadaway | Monday, June 21, 2021 - Leave a Comment

A follow-up on Dan’s 2008 Password Manifesto


On the NIST Publication on Digital Identity Guidelines
Another one of those Dan’s New Leaf Posts, meant to inspire thought about IT Governance . . . .


In June 2017, NIST released a special publication on digital identity, NIST SP 800-63, that is starting to get the attention of our larger Clients.  We believe this is due in-part because some in management want to use the guidance to justify weaker authentication controls.  I posit this because one of the questions I received about this actually pointed to the recommendation to use 8-character passwords on low-risk systems.

Now, I still maintain it’s easier to type a 20-character sentence than an 8-character strong password, but putting that aside, I guess I can see weaker requirements on low-risk systems as okay.  But why confuse the heck out of users??  And who has low-risk systems?

But again, let’s put that to the side and talk about real-world uses of a risk-based approach to authentication.

While I admit I didn’t read the entire thing yet (it’s 100+ pages), I do like the notion of taking a “risk-based approach” to authentication.  The NIST publication appears to define 3 specific levels of ‘authentication assurance’.  Similar to how the CAT now requires us to perform a criticality analysis so we know where to focus our monitoring controls, this guidance defines acceptable authentication requirements for 3 levels of asset sensitivities.  They are called Authenticator Assurance Levels, (AAL), where

  • AAL1 is for low-risk
  • AAL2 is for moderate-risk
  • AAL3 is for high-risk

It defines permitted authentication types (AAL1 is anything from just a memorized password to multi-factor cryptographic device whereas AAL3 only allows multi-factor methods), how often re-authentication should be required, and other standards.

In terms of how regulators are implementing it, the auditors at infotex have NOT seen anything referencing these new guidelines in our audits, to-date.  Still, since this guidance is relatively new, something will most likely be coming especially for banks over 5 billion.

Be sure to note that the NIST guidelines explicitly state they don’t take into account physical access controls.  Additionally, when adding additional authentication factors like biometrics, the need for excessively long and overly complex passwords does reduce a bit (but not entirely).  Similar to how we’ve seen guidance change on frequency of password expiration/changes . . . the reason a risk-based approach is great is because it will allow us to base strategy on how people actually use these authentication systems.  By requiring unique, excessively long, and complex passwords that are changed too frequently, we may inadvertently be encouraging bad practices like using easily identifiable words and information since users have no other way to keep all these credentials memorized.

For resources, I direct you to my original article on password aging from long before Microsoft finally agreed it was an outdated control:  https://my.infotex.com/manifesto/

And, if you haven’t thought to use it, consider sharing this oft reference XKCD comic with your management team, it helps explain how password complexity is sometimes a misnomer in terms of actual strength of passwords:  https://xkcd.com/936/


Original article by Dan Hadaway CRISC CISA CISM. Founder and Managing Partner, infotex

“Dan’s New Leaf” is a “fun blog to inspire thought in the area of IT Governance.”

 


same_strip_012513


 

Latest News
    Another awareness poster for YOUR customers (and users).  Now that we have our own employees aware, maybe it’s time to start posting content for our customers! Check out posters.infotex.com for the whole collection! Download the large versions here: Awareness Poster (Portrait) Awareness Poster (Landscape)   You are welcome to print out and distribute this around […]
    The joint cybersecurity advisory includes the 15 most exploited vulnerabilities reported in 2021… An article review.  While a lot of attention is focused on previously undisclosed or “zero day” attacks, some of the most likely attack vectors are vulnerabilities that have been widely known for weeks or even months.  That’s according to a new joint […]
    Threats are changing, EDR can help us adapt . . . Today’s advanced persistent threat (APT) understands that the IT landscape has changed. In the post-COVID age, more and more organizations have adopted some form of work from home.  While WFH offers many conveniences, it also imparts increased risks. BitSight conducted a 2021 study of […]
    The Five Precepts of IT Vendor Management Webinar-Movie We’re going back to basics on Vendor Management. This webinar will give you a training tool to help out that new person that is starting to take on the gargantuan task that is Vendor Management.
    A new way of helping people “read” new guidance… Look for more in the future! To save you time, we are proud to present “Adam Reads” . . . recorded versions of our Guidance Summaries! Below you can find an embedded player for the audio file. If you are having issues with that working, you […]
    You think you’ve finally found stability in your to-do list. Your goals are set, and you’re even making great progress on them all. Audit findings: all addressed. Management requests: Under control. Heck, you might even be able to leave the office five minutes early at least once this year. Then BAM! A press release from […]
    Software Bill of Materials (SBOMs) are becoming more and more important. . . We are all very familiar with one aspect of the software supply chain – updates.  New features, bug fixes, and performance upgrades are a regular occurrence to any device’s lifecycle, however what if these kinds of updates also include deliberately malicious code? […]
    Another awareness poster for YOUR customers (and users).  Now that we have our own employees aware, maybe it’s time to start posting content for our customers! Check out posters.infotex.com for the whole collection! Download the large versions here: Awareness Poster (Portrait) Awareness Poster (Landscape)   You are welcome to print out and distribute this around […]
    According to a new survey, more organizations than ever are reporting problems with cybersecurity staffing… An article review. While pandemic related mandates and restrictions are gradually being lifted across the country, many organizations are still feeling the effects in one important area: staffing.  That’s according to ISACA’s annual State of Cybersecurity survey, which asked over […]
    Understanding Banking Trojans… Another Technical Article by Tanvee Dhir! What are Banking Trojans? A trojan is a malicious program that masquerades as a genuine one. They are often designed to steal sensitive information from users (login passwords, account numbers, financial information, credit card information, etc.). A banking trojan is a malicious computer program designed to […]