Are we seeing the death of the password?

Last updated: 21 March 2014

Joey Muniz (The Security Blogger) wrote recently about how it is becoming increasingly straightforward for potential hackers to find out your passwords, due to the predictable nature of way people select a password.

This useful cartoon from xkcd shows how easy it can be to obtain passwords, also suggesting a simple way in which to boost your security.

Password Strength by

I absolutely agree with Joey’s statement that you need two-factor authentication in order to safeguard your data in today’s world. Usernames and passwords are free, but you get what you pay for – and effective security is not usually free.

The challenge lies in the fact that most companies are afraid of the cost and difficulty of rolling out a more secure authentication solution. But in reality the real question should be ‘what is the cost of not moving to strong authentication?’

McAfee recently revealed that 72 different organizations around the world have been victims of cyber-spying. With attacks likely to increase, it is important to note that strengthening your access controls ensures that you have a higher level of security for all those who are attempting to access the network.

Microsoft has made some progress in helping support strong authentication by incorporating the support of smart cards into both Windows 7 and Server 2008, and there are easy downloads to upgrade earlier versions. But one of the most important things that companies need to consider is risk-appropriate authentication levels. This simply means making sure you have the right level of security for your organizational level. By implementing risk-appropriate authentication for users who do not need access to sensitive information (remote sales persons, contractors) a company could use OTP authentication that is stronger than username and password, but only provides access.

For users who have greater access privileges and depend on communication or the transfer of confidential information (legal, executives or board members) companies should think about migrating to certificate-based or PKI authentication. With Microsoft’s support, this type of authentication comes with additional benefits like email encryption and digital signature. Once enabled, it is as easy as clicking a button in Outlook to send an encrypted email to another person within the same trust framework. The process is equally as simple for digitally signing a document or Excel spreadsheet.

Companies need to take a hard look at who has access to what and must move the higher level users to a stronger form of authentication. To do anything less would be irresponsible.