NIST Finalizes New Password Policy

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.

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About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Senior Cybersecurity Engineer at Computer Integration Technologies, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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