Building a better password

Is your password really as secure as you think it is? Davey Winder investigates.

In the end, what makes implementing a successful secure password management strategy is actually having a strategy in the first place insists Kevin Bocek, director at IronKey. "While it may seem simple" Bocek tells us "it's most important to have a password management strategy and policy of some sort that's actually implemented and enforced even though it's not perfect".

At the smaller end of the enterprise scale, this is often still not yet accomplished. But with the Information Commissioner's Office placing the spotlight on data breaches, many organisations of all sizes have started encrypting mobile data.

"Without being able to enforce and report on encryption use, including the type and quality of passwords used for unlocking encryption keys" Bocek warns "escaping a fine that can reach 500,000 could provide difficult".

Which is where a Continuous Controls Monitoring (CCM) solution can be useful, suggests Richard Hunt.

"CCM provides users with real-time status assurances for all of their compliance control points" he explains "a rule can be configured that triggers an automatic and regular review of password complexity to ensure that user passwords contain enough variation in terms of numbers and upper and lowercase letters". Any exceptions will be automatically flagged in the control output and then reviewed by the IT Admin for relevant action.

Secure or not secure?

So what makes a truly secure password? Jason Hart, an ex-ethical hacker and now vice president of security at CRYPTOCard has a very straight response to the question: nothing makes a password truly secure!

"Passwords are the softest security target" Hart warns "and until people and organisations start adopting strong authentication in the form of, for instance, two-factor authentication this problem won't go away".

Sadly, of course, he is right. Which is why many enterprises are now combining something you have (such as a smartcard or USB stick with a one time password function) with something you know (a PIN) to secure their networks instead.

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