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Passwords - Common Attacks And Possible Solutions

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Autor:   •  November 1, 2010  •  2,180 Words (9 Pages)  •  783 Views

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Making sure authorized users have access to either sensitive company information or their personal e-mail can be a dauntning task, given the fact that an average user has to remember at least 4/5 passwords, a couple of which have to be changed on a monthly basis. The majority of users are frustrated when choosing or remembering a password, and are highly unaware of the consequences of their actions while handling accounting data.

This article will provide you with an overview of how important, yet fragile, passwords security really is; you will be acquainted with different techniques for creating and maintaining passwords, and possible alternative methods for authentication, namely Passphrases, Biometrics and Public Key Infrastructure(PKI).

Dangers posed by passwords

While the majority of organizations and almost 99% of the home users still rely heavily on passwords as a basic form of authentication to sensitive and personal resources, the insecure maintenance, creation, and network transfer could open the front door of any organization or personal asset to a malicious attacker.

Management staff with outdated mode of thinking still believe that passwords are the most essential, user-friendly way to identify a user on their network or database, while the fact is that users are frustrated with the fact that they need to change their password, that they need to create a "secure" password, or follow instructions on how to keep it as secret as possible. The results are a large number of crackable passwords, the same passwords on multiple systems, and "post it" notes with passwords even including login names.

On any given system, certain users have privileges that the others don't and shouldn't even have. By identifying yourself on your computer or any given web site, you are granted with access to your work environment and personal data, data which you define as sensitive and data you wouldn't want to make public, the way a company doesn't want to give a competitor an access to its intranet, for instance. Abusive scenarios posed by exposing accounting data are:

Identity theft- Identity theft might occur once your accounting data is somehow known to another person using it to impersonate you in order to get hold of you digital identity. This might result in both financial damages, as well as personal ones.

Sensitive data exposure- The content of your e-mail correspondence, personal projects, documents and photos, could be exposed to a malicious hacker or someone targeting especially you as an individual.

Company data exposure- Unethical intelligence by getting sensitive confidential internal information through a badly maintained and kept accounting data would have an enormous impact on the company you're working for. I doubt you would like to be the one who exposed the next 6 months' marketing and advertising plans to a competitor.

Involvement in criminal activities- The use of your account could be used in various criminal activities if not well maintained and kept secret. Remember the trace leads back to your account.

The Most Common Password Exposure Scenarios

Physical security breach- A physical breach of your computer will completely bypass even the most sophisticated authentication methods, even the most secure encryption ones. A keylogger, both software and hardware might be installed, your secret PGP key might as well be exposed, thus all your accounting and encrypted data will be compromised. It doesn't matter how long, or secure your password is as physical security breaches are one of the most critical ones.

Unintentionally shared- A user might share his/her accounting data without even realizing that by exposing it at the risk of a potential break-in nincreases. A password is usually shared with friends, bosses, family under different circumstances. A "benefit" considered by some users is the convenience for two persons or more, to know certain accounting data in order to gain access to a certain resource. Passwords might also be shared in an informal talk with coworkers discussing the latest company's password policy, or the way they choose their passwords, how they maintain them and in some cases how the management will never find out about their thought to be secret ways of storing the accounting data. One of the most critical and easy to conduct ways of obtaining sensitive data is simply to ask for it, both in a direct or an indirect way, which is what social engineering is all about.

Cracked- Sometimes in case of a partial break-in, the encrypted password file of a company might be exposed to a malicious attacker. If it happens, the attacker will start password cracking the file, namely trying all the possible combinations with the idea to find the weakest passwords and gain privileges later on. In case the company is aware that its passwords' file has been compromised, it should immediately notify all employees to change their passwords, so even if weak passwords are exposed, they wouldn't be valid ones anymore. However, if the company is not aware of its password file exposure, it should constantly try to crack its password file just like an attacker would do and filter out the weakest passwords.

Sniffed- Are you aware how many employees are accessing sensitive data through their already breached computer or their friend's one? Having strong password doesn't guarantee its integrity when it's not securely transmitted over the Internet. Don't give your employees the ability to choose between plain text or SSL authentication; instead, enforce all network communications in encrypted mode. Another highly recommended option would be to provide everyone with "last login from.." feature, so that in case they notice an unauthorized login, they would report it right away.

Guessed- A large number of users are tricking the established password policies by somehow creating a believed to be strong, while weak or common sense password. Although nowadays this method is rarely used compared to the ones we've already discussed above, it should be kept in mind that certain users are still choosing passwords based on objects or brands around their desk.

The Most Common Password Maintenance Mistakes

Auto fill feature- The majority of applications will allow you to remember your passwords and accounting data, but unless you're sure that the computer


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