Old Security Habits Never Die; They Should

We still seem to see the same bad security habits we’ve always seen. Now, they involve PINs as well as passwords. Here are some bad habits you need to break.

The first bad habit has to do with keeping track of passwords and PINs (Personal Identification Numbers). We’ve discussed passwords ad nauseam, and the problems we find with them are they’re either forgotten, left in places where anyone can see them, used repeatedly, or made so simple that they’re easy to crack.

If you habitually run across any of these problems, you need to seriously think about how you can make your password system stronger. Some of the suggestions we’ve offered include making your passwords long and using a system that lets you vary one or two keystrokes or a word or phrase to keep them different. The system helps you remember your passwords – or at least the ones you use the most or ones you need while away from your computer. In creating your passwords, you’re better off using a longer password instead of a shorter complex one. Longer passwords make it more difficult for hacking software to figure it out.

A related issue is those security questions. Don’t give real answers that involve information in public records. Somebody can easily see where you’ve lived, where you went to school, etc. They can probably find out what your first car was.

PINs are meant to solve most of the issues, but they can run into that “forgetful” problem, too. An additional problem with PINs is that when you change devices, you need to reset the PIN. Again, that can be a real problem if you don’t remember the PIN you used.

Some people use their browser or a feature on their phones to save passwords. The danger there is that those passwords can be easily stolen, especially if you happen to visit a “phishing website,” one that has the look and feel of a legitimate website. When we feel rushed or stressed about things going on in life, we’re more susceptible to clicking one of those links or making a typing mistake. The owners of “phishing websites” typically have website domains related to common typing mistakes – although some companies have those sites, too, to make sure you can reach them. The old habit to break here is to take a deep breath when you’re online to make sure click on a legitimate link or type a domain name correctly.

Rather than use a browser or phone password saver, we recommend you a password manager. Dashlane and Last Pass are two that are well known, but using any manager gives you stronger protection. You’ll need to set aside time to get your password manager properly configured and to enter all the passwords you want to protect. The process includes setting up a master password that gives you access to the electronic vault where all your passwords are stored. The key to success is never, ever forgetting that password or giving it to anyone except one or two trusted people.

Credit card numbers can be hacked, too. A couple of our clients had their numbers stolen, and although they changed passwords, they still wondered what else might be broken in their system.

We can help you with security breaches. We take the time to look closely at your system to see how each change you might make – changing passwords or adding a password manager – will affect you. Our analogy here is to the new kitchen that we’re getting. As we change the room and add things like electrical outlets or lighting fixtures, we have to open holes in our walls and ceiling, and we don’t know what’s there until we get them open. It’s the same with your tech system. Without looking at everything, we can’t tell how one change will affect your system.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and do the appropriate patching, including installing and configuring a password manager.

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.