Go ahead, try to predict the death of passwords. You’ll wind up sounding like the 1960s futurists always predicting that we’d abandon cars any year now for personal aircraft buzzing above the gridlock. Back in 2004, even Bill Gates pronounced passwords obsolete when he declared them insufficient for truly securing critical data. At the time, Gates noted the chronic issues of people using the same password on many platforms and writing them down so they can remember them.
The kids learning to walk on the day that Gates threw that password shade are now college students generally continuing the sins of their digital ancestors. Most people still use ridiculously weak passwords, with “123456” being the most popular choice of 2020. The top 50 passwords of 2020 can all be cracked by automated hacking tools in under a day, with most being crackable in under 1 second. But that’s not say we’re not worrying about those lame passwords, since Google reports that searches for “password strength test” jumped 300% in 2020.
But choosing a stronger password throws us right back into the hassle loop. Stronger=harder to remember, which explains why about 2/3 of Americans use the same password across multiple sites. That’s a bigger problem than most people realize, considering that roughly 15 billion passwords are for sale on the dark web on any given day. (You can check whether your e-mail address or phone number as been part of a data breach at this site.)
So we all agree: Passwords are a pain and actually pretty mediocre at their one job of securing data. Roughly 80% of system breaches involve a compromised user credential. And the research firm Forrester estimates that about half of IT help desk calls relate to password resets, at an average cost of $70. In one case study, Aetna insurance noted how customers would deluge the help desk with password resets during open enrollment (one of the few times each year most people touch their insurance app). The company dubbed it “Password Armageddon.”
Even so, passwords survive largely because switching to other tools requires more inconvenience for users and a significant migration effort and expense on the part of the IT team. This chart from Microsoft sums up the trade-offs between passwords and several alternatives we discuss below:
If you’re looking to improve your organization's IT security or Identity and Access Management, here are some options to consider.
Passphrases – These extended versions of passwords are harder to crack because of their length and mix of words. A basic one might be “HowIMetYurMoth3r!” That’s better than a password or a string of normal words, and it meets common password requirements for capitalized letters, punctuation, etc. It throws in a couple of curveballs with a misspelled word and a number standing in for a letter. But it still lacks enough of what experts call entropy, or randomness. Humans almost inevitably think in patterns, so if you want a truly strong passphrase, use a randomizer tool like Diceware. Of course, a great passphrase still has a major weakness if you reuse the same one on multiple platforms.
Single Sign-On – Many companies have adopted this setup, which lets users rely on a single username and password to access a wide variety of programs and services. No more typing in a different password for Office 365, the company intranet, the expense reporting system and every other cloud-based service. SSO has clear advantages in the realm of user experience and workload for IT teams constantly dealing with password issues. SSO’s main challenges are complexity of implementation and dealing with legacy applications that may not support it. And SSO obviously carries the problem of giving a hacker access to all your systems if they compromise the SSO itself.
Multifactor authentication – If you’ve ever talked to a cybersecurity expert, you’ve probably heard them preach the importance of MFA. We’re doing it again here. Virtually every vision for eliminating passwords requires MFA because of stats like Microsoft’s finding that MFA reduces the odds of being compromised by 99.9%. MFA lets people access data by providing two of the following three things:
Password-less Authentication – These systems rely on MFA’s “something you have” and “something you are” elements to grant access. There’s no password to memorize, or steal. So logging into a system typically requires you to have an item (your phone, a hardware token, etc.) and a biometric factor like those described below. Many of the systems also incorporate some version of public key cryptography that generates a unique key for logins. In simple terms, this system puts a padlock on a system that everyone can see. But only you get the key.
PINs – They’re not quite the same as a password. Microsoft now supports PINs that are tied to a specific device. That means that even if you gave a hacker your system password, they couldn’t get into anything without accessing it through your physical device. That turns the computer itself into a “something you have” factor for MFA.
Biometrics – Scans of fingerprints and facial features have gone mainstream in recent years with smartphone features and Windows 10’s Windows Hello option for logging in with a facial or fingerprint scan. Your unique appearance is far more difficult to steal than a password, but hackers are finding ways to spoof faces to fool the systems. So even with the go-to security system of every spy movie in place, MFA still provides a needed extra layer of security.
Along with reading faces and fingerprints, companies have spent years researching some other incredibly subtle ways of identifying you. Your computer may eventually identify you by your typing rhythm, and your phone may recognize you through the pressure you exert on the screen. (It’s an old idea. During World War II, telegraph operators recognized each other by their tapping rhythms in a method known as “Fist of the Sender.”)
Advanced threat detection – Next-gen endpoint detection tools such as Managed XDR can stop hackers even if they have an authentic username and password. (This process is sometimes known as risk-based authentication.) These tools constantly watch for developing threats by tracking where a user is logging in from, what they’re trying to access and more. With this 360 defense in place, even a stolen password won’t be enough for someone acting suspiciously to get to critical data.
Need help figuring out how to implement some of these tools to move past passwords’ inherent limitations? Contact us today.
When it comes to digital evidence, the questions change at the speed of innovation. And that makes challenges related to electronically stored information (ESI) a key issue in nearly every court case. With court decisions hinging on digital evidence, it’s critical that business leaders, IT pros and attorneys all understand what courts are looking for.
“I can’t think of any case where there isn’t some amount of ESI,” says Judge Helen Adams, Chief Magistrate Judge for the U.S. Southern District of Iowa.
In such a fast-moving legal area, judges don’t expect anyone to have perfect answers. But judges are signaling their shrinking patience with attorneys who won’t make the effort to become competent with e-discovery. For one cautionary tale, Judge Adams recommends reading DR Distributors, LLC v 21 Century Smoking, Inc. et al. In the January 2021 ruling, Judge Iain Johnston of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois clearly showed that he was fed up with a case that had dragged on for eight years and included more than 400 docket entries. Judge Johnston declared in the ruling’s opening sentences, “Through a series of missteps, misdeeds, and misrepresentations, Defendants and the former defense counsel find themselves looking down the barrel of a sanctions motion Howitzer.”
Judge Adams says, “It’s a great learning tool for lawyers if they want to know what not to do.”
Even after that warning shot, Iowa’s Judge Adams remains optimistic. She thinks that most ESI headaches can be avoided if all parties simply do some homework and focus on communicating clearly and frequently.
Judge Adams’ core advice is simple: Become more curious, ask better questions and talk with more people who can explain all the legal implications of recording almost everything.
“The biggest complicating factor for me is that lawyers just aren’t well-versed in this and don’t ask enough questions of their clients,” she says.
The judge’s most common challenge? Lawyers who claim an ESI request is overly broad and puts an undue burden on their client. “But when you ask what that means, they can’t answer it because they don’t have the info from their client.”
Judge Adams says that if an attorney pushes back on an ESI request, they should produce supporting details. For instance, an attorney could provide an affidavit from an IT expert explaining where the information is stored and exactly how much it would cost to retrieve it. The judge wants specifics, such as how many documents came up in the initial search, where those documents are stored and how many hours it would take to retrieve them.
Many digital evidence requests try to cover too much time. In a wrongful termination case, there’s probably no reason to request every record related to an employee’s 20-year career at the company. Instead, start by requesting records and e-mails from 6 months before and 6 months after the termination. The results will indicate whether it’s reasonable to expand the scope.
Judge Adams also urges attorneys to bring technical experts with them to pre-trial conferences and into the courtroom itself. “If you have a good IT rep that can talk to us, that would be really helpful,” she says. Just make sure your expert can translate the technical summary into terms that the judge and jury can easily follow.
"A lot of ESI discovery issues can be resolved by lawyers on both sides talking to each other early and often and being transparent,” Judge Adams says.
To get all parties talking, the judge follows these procedures:
Judge Adams recommends the following resources for coming up to speed on ESI discovery:
Clearly, the legal team expects all parties to do their best to keep up. For help with best practices on finding and presenting digital evidence, contact our digital forensics team today.
It seems like we all would’ve learned this lesson from our own experience with mediocre teachers, coaches and bosses. But let’s review: Which statement from a leader would motivate your end users to make some changes?
“You’re the main reason we’re having this problem.”
“Our team really needs your help. You’re the perfect person to solve this problem.”
Easy choice, right? Not so much in the IT world. Despite everything we know about human motivation, we still constantly hear IT and security leaders trying to coax end users into taking security more seriously. Everywhere you turn, someone is calling an organization’s end users “the weakest link” in the cybersecurity plan. It’s especially common in marketing materials and social media posts from security awareness and training providers.
We’re not saying it’s untrue to say that end users are involved in most attacks. But we are saying it’s counterproductive to approach them as a liability rather than asset.
Research shows that about 80% of successful data breaches involve some form of social engineering. But how many of your employees will eagerly embrace a defense-in-depth security culture if you approach them as the problem instead of part of the solution?
Rather than viewing your end users as a weakness to offset, enlist them as frontline defenders. Call them an extension of the security team. Pump them up as a critical piece of the overall data protection effort. Show them that they can personally make your organization safer.
Changing your mindset—and building it into all your communication with end users—provides a solid cornerstone for building a successful awareness and training program that your user base will embrace.
Recently (though not for the first time) we saw a social media post stating–with passion!–that training end users to spot phishing e-mails is a waste of time and resources. Wrong answer. Training and simulated phishing campaigns work—if they’re well-planned, well-executed and given time to work.
Here are a few ways to create training and testing programs that get buy-in from your team:
So, let’s treat end users as frontline defenders, provide testing in a way that engages them, and view phishing training as a control with some of the best ROI in the security business. Ultimately, these will improve your organization’s overall awareness and training results and help with your “security bench strength.”
For help in planning a training program customized for your users’ needs, contact Pratum today.