Time to Come Up With a New Secure Password

So far, in my mini-series on security, I have examined incorrect log on attempts and so called strong passwords. This time, I want to turn my attention to password change policies. Unlike my previous posts, I am not going to quote facts and figures, or even make suggestions. I am merely going to give you some things to think about.

Once again, I should point out that I am not, in any way, suggesting that security isn’t vitally important. It is. However, I passionately believe that it is more about user education than draconian measures. As my first blog title stated, “It’s Impossible to Make Anything Foolproof, Because Fools are so Ingenious.” Too often, we are trying to come up with a technical solution to what is, essentially, a social problem!

Anyway, on to password change policies. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why do we make our users change their passwords every x days?

The obvious answer is, “In case someone has discovered it.

Let us assume for a moment that we have a password policy requiring at least eight characters, using mixed case and at least one number. Reviewing what I said last time about password strength, users typically put the number at the end. Why does that matter?

Well, let’s take a user with a current password of Password1. This meets our strength requirements. Let us further assume that this password has been compromised and is being used for nefarious purposes by someone else. “No problem,” you say, “our password change policy deals with that issue!” Really? So, the user is asked to change their password, which they do. How long do you think it will take our hacker to guess the new one once they realize it’s been changed?

Next, we need to consider the frequency of changing. Be honest, how many of you opt for frequencies of 60, 90 or 180 days? Awful, I say! These are all multiples of 30, which is about a month, which means that a significant number of people are likely to use the date (at least the month and maybe year) in their password.

Taking a step back, what do we really want to achieve?

Ideally, we want users to select secure passwords. But forcing them to come up with a new one every few days is surely not helping them to do this? Also, remember what I said in the first article. If you have complex passwords and a low number of logon attempts allowed, users are more likely to use the same password for multiple systems. You don’t want this. But if they then have to change their password periodically on some of those systems, the passwords get out of sync. Which doesn’t help your users at all!

I know I said I wasn’t going to make suggestions, but here is an idea for you to think about. Force passwords changes periodically, but allow password reuse. That way, users are reminded to think about their password every few weeks, but if they consider it still to be a good one, they can change it back to what it currently is.

Once again, I welcome your thoughts on what, for some, are my rather provocative views!

Until next time, when I plan to look at “The Onion” nature of security…


Paul Simpson

Paul Simpson

I joined Interactive Intelligence in January 2008 as a Training Consultant in the Education Department. Based initially in the Amsterdam office, I transferred to Indianapolis in 2010, where I still work in Education. My formal areas of interest are Interaction Dialer and Interaction Process Automation, however I can usually be found experimenting with various abstract parts of the product and love to make it do cool things! I’m always playing around with scripting and automation. Anyone who has attended one of my classes will tell you that my theories of troubleshooting can involve chickens and I am passionate about the correct pronunciation of the word “router.” Prior to Interactive Intelligence, I worked as a school teacher (mathematics and computing), a network engineer (mostly Novell), a hardware support engineer and a developer. I can trace my computing history back to the days of the Z80 and 6502. I have a keen personal interest in home media and automation. I am also developing an interest in Animatronics and would like, one day, to create a haunted-house walk-through for Halloween. I can be quite opinionated and hope that my blog posts will spark some healthy debate.