In-depth

Why following Get Safe Online's advice could leave you anything but

Davey Winder points out the short-comings in the password security tools used by Get Safe Online

Password

OPINION: I seem to have become the Mystic Meg of IT security journalism. I mention some potential issue in passing and that very same problem gets exposed elsewhere for all the world to see.

Take the small matter of pathetically poor password strength meters. I recently mentioned them at the very end of a piece about how badly eBay handled its data breach, in that its site features a totally broken one.

Advertisement - Article continues below

This was in light of its suggestion that a seven character string password with one uppercase letter was more secure than a 12-string combination of nine random lowercase letters and three random numbers.

I shouldn't have been surprised, as most (if not all) password strength meters are at best nothing more than eye candy.

My personal surprise meter hit the red within a week of the article being published, after I saw a news story reporting that another site - which really should know better - was also using broken password meters.

The site in question was the Government-backed Get Safe Online, which is described as being a "security service to help protect computers, mobile phones and other devices from malicious attack."

A screenshot of the meter in action showed that the ridiculously insecure combination of a name and date, in this case Julia1984, had been graded as 'exceptional' in terms of strength.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

I shouldn't have been surprised, as most (if not all) password strength meters are at best nothing more than eye candy.

It even told the user they had "all the right moves", as far as creating strong passwords are concerned.

If that wasn't bad enough, the password being tested by this user was right there in plain text when the result of the strength meter was returned and displayed on screen for anyone who might be looking over the shoulder of said person to note down.

So that's two alarm bells ringing for the price of one in terms of offering insecure advice and implementing an insecure web service. Nice.

Nobody who knows anything about security would use a first name followed by a year as a password and think it was secure, but it takes a real class of idiot to present this as acceptable to those who don't know anything about security.

Advertisement - Article continues below

There's a widely-used phrase within the IT industry about eating one's own dog food, which essentially means that those offering advice should follow it themselves.

Despite the fact Get Safe Online acted pretty quickly to remove the offending, and offensive, password meter from their site after the story broke, I'm inclined to think that with advice like this being handed out, no wonder reported breaches are on the up.

Featured Resources

Successful digital transformations are future ready - now

Research findings identify key ingredients to complete your transformation journey

Download now

Cyber security for accountants

3 ways to protect yourself and your clients online

Download now

The future of database administrators in the era of the autonomous database

Autonomous databases are here. So who needs database administrators anymore?

Download now

The IT expert’s guide to AI and content management

Your guide to the biggest opportunities for IT teams when it comes to AI and content management

Download now
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/security/cyber-security/355267/zoom-hires-ex-facebook-cso-to-boost-platform-security
cyber security

Zoom hires ex-Facebook CSO Alex Stamos to boost platform security

8 Apr 2020
Visit/software/video-conferencing/355257/taiwan-first-country-to-ban-zoom-amid-security-concerns
video conferencing

Taiwan becomes first country to ban Zoom amid security concerns

8 Apr 2020
Visit/security/vulnerability/355236/hp-support-assistant-flaws-leave-windows-devices-open-to-attack
vulnerability

HP Support Assistant flaws leave Windows devices open to attack

6 Apr 2020
Visit/security/cyber-security/355234/safari-bug-let-hackers-access-cameras-on-iphones-and-macs
cyber security

Safari bug let hackers access cameras on iPhones and Macs

6 Apr 2020

Most Popular

Visit/mobile/mobile-phones/355239/microsofts-patent-design-reveals-a-mobile-device-with-a-third-screen
Mobile Phones

Microsoft patents a mobile device with a third screen

6 Apr 2020
Visit/development/application-programming-interface-api/355192/apple-buys-dark-sky-weather-app-and-leaves
application programming interface (API)

Apple buys Dark Sky weather app and leaves Android users in the cold

1 Apr 2020
Visit/server-storage/servers/355254/a-critical-flaw-in-350000-microsoft-exchange-remains-unpatched
servers

A critical flaw in 350,000 Microsoft Exchange remains unpatched

7 Apr 2020