Effective Password Management
14 Sep, 2017
Our top tips for managing passwords both personally and professionally.
These days we need a password or a PIN for everything we touch – work computer, online banking, social media accounts, mobile phone accounts, the list could go on. As a society we have become dominated by them. But, as much as we all hate them (and curse them when we input them incorrectly!) deep down we all know that they are there to protect us and our valuable information. Equally, we all know that we should protect our passwords. But they can be cracked. There are clever tools out there that hackers can use to decipher passwords. Further, passwords can be obtained when they are left on sticky notes on computer screens, when ‘engineers’ call and ask for passwords over the telephone or by providing minimal personal information which links to passwords.
So, what can you do to help yourself?
Well, there are certain things that are a big no when it comes to passwords.
Firstly do not pick conventional words, that includes conventional words with a number at the end or conventional words spelt backwards so this includes things such as manager, administration, gniniart1. All of these types of passwords are easy for online tools to crack.
Secondly, although it’s tempting, do not use personal information. We all do it because it’s easy to remember. However, if hackers are determined, these sorts of passwords can be cracked by gleaning just some basic details from you. So steer clear of using anything relating to your name, a commonly known nickname, a close family member’s name or your pet’s name. Further, avoid using numbers such as your telephone number, your date of birth or your house number.
Good passwords should be complex. The longer the better and ideally between 12-15 characters long. Short passwords should be avoided. You should always use different characters in your passwords – don’t just stick to the standard alphabet. A good password should have:
- Upper case
- Lower case
- Specials (£, $ &, etc.)
However, you should mix these up. People commonly put the capital letter at the start and the digits at the end but again this can make them easy to guess/be hacked. Try mixing them up for maximum security.
Choose a password with a complex meaning that can’t be guessed. This is where mnemonics can be really helpful. Think in terms of phrases rather than in passwords and their creation can become much less laborious. So for example “My very educated mother just served us nine pies” could create the password “MveMjguNP”.
Some tips for extra protection:
- It sounds obvious but NEVER give your password away. If it does need to be given to a system administrator make sure this is done in person (not via e-mail or telephone) and that it is a trusted source.
- Do not use the same password for multiple accounts. If it is cracked once, they will have access to everything.
- Do not write passwords down on sticky notes left on computer monitors. If you must write down passwords then do so very carefully. Use a related thought or a convoluted phrase to jog your memory. Write it on paper which is carried on your person and stored in a safe place at home. Don’t store then written down on an online document stored on your computer.
- Be aware of people ‘shoulder surfing’ as you are inputting passwords.
Previously there was widespread advice that passwords should be changed regularly to ensure protection from hackers. However, over recent years, that thinking has changed. It is considered that if you change passwords too frequently, you can potentially become flippant about choosing something – people often have an exhaustive imagination when it comes to passwords. They end up using the same word with incremental numbering which is not very secure. The new school of thought is to pick a really effective password in the first place to avoid having to make frequent changes.
What can you do as a business?
- Set a strong password policy for staff and get staff to sign to confirm they have read it.
- Remind employees about hacking risks.
- Teach new staff about good password practices.
- Provide resources to staff about good password practices.
- Ensure staff have different passwords for different things.
- Put in place lockouts on computers for incorrect password attempts.
- Make sure that staff change default passwords immediately.
- Blacklist certain passwords, so this could be the names of staff, the name of the business or anything you feel that links to the individuals that could be easily guessed or hacked.
Effective password management is only part of the story though. It’s also useful to think about general user education, good physical security (no documents lying around the office), firewalls and being aware of security risks.
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