Last year we took a look at the emerging changes to password policy that were coming from NIST. The final document is out, and the changes we looked at last year have pretty much made it into the final draft.
One of the sacred cows that was skewered was the “complexity requirement.” This is the requirement to use upper and lower case latters, numbers, and symbols when creating a password. NIST Special Publication 800-63B, “Digital Identity Guidelines,” states: “Many attacks associated with the use of passwords are not affected by password complexity and length. Keystroke logging, phishing, and social engineering attacks are equally effective on lengthy, complex passwords as simple ones. This means that password complexity has failed in practice.“
NIST also states that the only useful defense against automated password cracking tools is password length. Complexity has offers no advantage against a brute-force password attack.
The time where a password alone was enough to secure a digital asset has also passed, and NIST is strongly recommending two-factor or multi-factor authentication as a new requirement. In smaller organizations, a product such as Google Authenticator or Authy could work. Larger enterprises may need to look at something more robust like Duo.
Our recommendation to our clients is to move toward two-factor authentication as quickly as possible. 2FA (or TFA) protects your users from exploits including keystroke loggers, phishing exploits, and other social engineering attempts. Even if the password is breached, an attacker would need the user’s smartphone or 2FA device to successfully log in.