Passwords’ Brave New World

While passwords need to go away, they won’t disappear overnight. So, we highly recommend you – and the internet world – follow some guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in managing your online presence.

For individuals and small businesses, managing hundreds of passwords for all the websites and resources you need to access requires a concentrated effort. Every organization with which you interact online has to manage your password and everyone else’s. Website managers and administrators work hard to roll out security strategies, but piecemeal security strategies are ineffective and risky. There are too many cracks for passwords and other measures to fall through. Ad hoc strategies leave room for errors that could put customers’ data in jeopardy. This is where NIST comes into play and understanding what’s behind their guidelines can help you take some action for your online security. 

Part of the Department of Commerce, the NIST develops guidelines based on best practices from a diverse array of security organizations and publications. NIST guidelines are so well-respected that private sector organizations have adopted them to keep their entire infrastructures secure. They affect some of the requirements you get when creating your own passwords – which you need to follow because they are in response to newer, more powerful threats.

Here are some of the most important new guidelines that NIST has issued to those who provide the services that manage internet access. You can expect them to affect you.

  • Go long: The suggested minimum is 8 characters when a human sets a password and 6 when it’s set by automation. However, NIST encourages users to create passwords with 64 characters or more, including things like spaces and emojis. They’ll be harder to crack.
  • Remove reset requirements: As users struggle to drum up countless creative, strong new passwords each month, they end up creating weaker passwords. Password strength should be about quality, not quantity—one excellent password is better than 10 new, mediocre ones. 
  • Keep it simple: How often have you created a new account, for a new application, online store, or digital news outlet, and encountered the prompt, “your password must contain one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, and one symbol”? Overly complex passwords can lead to poor password behavior, just as with frequent resets.
  • Be more user-friendly affair: The “show password while typing” is a rare option that can let you use longer, stronger passwords because you don’t have to remember all those gyrations you created. Another friendly option is to allow users to copy and paste passwords. Users who are allowed to copy and paste their passwords are more likely to create and store stronger, lengthier passwords within password managers than those who are forced to type out their password every single time. 
  • Go clueless: Knowledge-based authentication clues can save time, but with all the personal data available today, it’s easier than ever for hackers to decode hint prompts and breach systems.
  • Limit attempts: NIST password standards recommend providing users with a maximum of 10 login attempts before they are turned away. That should be enough to aid a forgetful user but not assist brute-force attackers. 
  • Go hands-free: SMS texting services should not be a part of any two-factor authentication (2FA) process. It isn’t entirely secure, enabling cybercriminals to insert malware that can redirect text messages and facilitate attacks against the mobile phone network. 

NIST standards and the guidelines listed above are important because newer, more powerful cyberthreats will always be deployed. As a user, you need to be aware of newer and better security options. We continue to advocate for biometrics and other measures that are unique to you – and only you – to allow access to your online world.

For most of us, a password manager that works across all the platforms you and your family or businesses use is still a strong defense against hackers. We like Dashlane because its paid version covers an unlimited number of website passwords across multiple devices. For those of you with the right technology, you can start to take advantage of other techniques to access your protected websites. Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to discuss your needs and see how we can make you more secure.

What Are Your Biggest Online Threats in 2020?

Cyberthreats will be coming at you – and any person or organization with whom you have an online relationship – with increasing speed and sophistication. For some, it might feel like you’re living inside an online fantasy game, but it’s real life. Here’s what to look for.

Phishing and Social Engineering

There’s nothing new about phishing, where cybercriminals try to obtain sensitive information, like passwords or financial information, usually by using links in emails to install malware to breach your system. Non-profits have been major targets because they don’t have alert systems built into network infrastructures, but any business, governmental organization or individual can be hit. We’ve discussed the need to be highly aware of what you’re clicking and to exercise extreme caution. As an individual user, you have control.

At businesses, it’s a bigger chore to combat phishing. Attacks enable hackers to steal user logins, credit card credentials and other types of personal financial information, as well as gain access to private databases.

Going hand-in-hand with phishing is social engineering, which can cover a multitude of attacks such as disinformation and deep fakes spread by social media. We see this as one of the biggest threats you face this year.

Social media makes it easier to spread disinformation faster than anyone can send out the facts to repudiate fakery or misrepresentation. Deep fakes relate to fake images and videos being created by deep learning techniques. We’ve seen them in the political arena and can expect more them to be leveraged as a tool to attempt to discredit candidates and push inaccurate political messages to voters via social media. We’ll also see them in ransomware, showing targets realistic videos of themselves in compromising situations. We’ll also see more spoofing in business email with deep fakes used to add a further degree of realism to the request to transfer money.


Ransomware attacks cost billions of dollars every year, as hackers literally kidnap an individual or organization’s databases and hold all of the information for ransom. The rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin spurred ransomware attacks by allowing ransom demands to be paid anonymously. As companies build stronger defenses against ransomware, some experts believe hackers will increasingly target other potentially profitable ransomware victims such as high-net-worth individuals.

Third-Party Vulnerabilities (IoT, Cloud, Supply Chain)

This is a tough threat to ward off because you have some control over your vulnerabilities but not all of them. With the Internet of Things (IoT), you have control. Make sure that you change every default username and password for every device you connect to your network and have a strong network password and firewall. I have little sympathy for people whose systems are hacked because they didn’t take the proper setup steps to prevent invasion.

The cloud is as safe as you can get, especially with large, reputable service providers. They have the resources to deploy the most advanced security measures and multiple services to protect your data. Our advice here is to use a top-rated cloud service provider and make sure you have protected your network, just you would to maintain IoT security.

The supply chain is tough. With so many companies using the internet to fulfill product orders, manage vendors and customers and provide financial services, each one of them can rely on hundreds of vendors. You rely on all of them to keep your data safe, and that can make any one of them the weakest link in your security. Your best defense is to take every security precaution you can, such as keeping your software and hardware up to date, using common sense on what you click, and letting others know when you have concerns about their security.

Internal Attacks

We have only begun to see the impact insiders can have on organizations as well as national and global security. While the news focuses on dangerous insiders exfiltrating data to foreign governments and terrorist organizations, you need to focus on your business – and your business partners. In all likelihood, your biggest threats will be data theft for monetary purposes – similar to effects of ransomware – or some disruption of your business by a disgruntled or careless employee.

5G’s Unprecedented Data-Theft Speeds

5G cellular technology promises unprecedented speed to make it possible to have more effective infrastructure, autonomous vehicles, faster emergency response and greatly improved telemedicine. It will be almost entirely software-driven; you’ll need hardware capable of handling it. Because it will be software-driven, it will be susceptible to hacks. You’ll need to follow safe internet practices and hope that everyone else does, too. There’s not much you can do technologically in the grand scheme of things, but you can and should demand that large organizations and governments take steps to protect 5G networks.

We can help you make sure you have the knowledge and systems in place to protect your systems from cyberthreats. Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to discuss your needs.

Health Wearables in Style at CES

Wearables caught our eye at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. There’s a wearable for almost any health condition, and that has its own set of pros and cons.

The big pro, as we see it, is that you can monitor so many health conditions, such as your heartbeat, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and if you have sleep apnea. A wearable can even detect AFib. The downsides, as we see them, are that there are too many proprietary technologies that require you to wear their own watch or wristband. That immediately conjured up in my mind an image of someone rolling up his sleeve and showing his arm full of watches – just like a guy trying to sell you something on the street.

We clearly will need some sort of a more ubiquitous watch, like an Apple Watch or Fitbit, to consolidate these capabilities into one wearable device. I would shudder at the thought of getting behind an overdressed health fanatic at airport security.

On a more helpful note, Amazon, Apple and Google are joining other internet and technology giants to join a project called “Connected Home Over IP”. The group aims to make it easier for device manufacturers to build products that are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.

We like this development because it will reduce a lot of electronic clutter by allowing you to consolidate a variety of smart-home technologies into one platform. That can help you control them better from a smartphone, and it can help make your home more secure from hackers because you only need to worry about a single control point.

We’ve embraced a lot of smart-home technology in our family, and the convenience is a great benefit. But we’ve always wondered about where the security is. It’s up to us to demand better security from the internet industry and product manufacturers, and this is a step in that direction. However, it’s still up to you – more than ever – to secure your IoT devices to make your smart-home technology truly smart.

Finally, there was a lot of buzz over sex and technology. We’ll sidestep all the lurid details, but sex has always sold, so we’ll be in for more of it. One sex-product developer even won an award for innovation, but it was pulled after some heavy pushback.

Sex toys aside, more technology will continue to hit the markets for anything that affects your life – for work and for play. As you add more technology, you’ll need to make sure your network has the capacity to handle new devices and systems, and you’ll need to make sure it’s all secure. That’s where we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help get your new technology running.