Why good password practices are no longer optional — Part 1

This is the first part in a two-part series in password security practices and storage. Be sure to click here to read part two if you haven’t already!

If you — like many people — are in the habit of using simple passwords, or even the same password over multiple sites, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Let me briefly explain: If you’re using a simple password it becomes much easier for a hacker to brute-force your password and gain access to your account. You should always use the strongest password — lower- and upper-case letters, numbers, and special characters — that any particular website supports.

If you’re already using strong passwords, good for you. However, if you’re using that same password — or a variation of it — on multiple sites, you’re undercutting the security of it. If one website that you use it on becomes compromised and that password is revealed or released, any other website that you use it on has also become compromised.

One example of this disaster is the RockYou hack. In  January of 2010, Imperva released data regarding passwords exposed in the RockYou.com breach. In this attack, 32 million accounts were compromised and led to the disclosure of the top ten most used passwords, which potentially led to countless more accounts being compromised which used passwords that were on that list. This list was later updated to the 25 most often used passwords, as listed on Yahoo Finance.

Another example of this disaster waiting to happen is a phishing attack. This type of social engineering attack starts with a convincing-looking email that leads you to a website where you will “log in” or provide some other account details. The site that you’re directed to — while looking like the real site — is often a fake, designed to get you to provide your account information. Once the site has it, your account information can be used to log in to the real site. From there, a hacker can seize control of your account (changing the email address, password, and security questions), and attempting to use that information to log into other sites. Again, if you’re using the same password on multiple sites, the hacker now has access to all of those other sites.

Think you can identify a phishing email? Take a few minutes and take the SONICwall Phishing IQ Test now. I got 100% on this test, feel free to post your score in the comments below! You can also try the OpenDNS phishing quiz. I scored 14 out of 14 on the OpenDNS quiz. Feel free to post your scores and feedback in the comments below.

The implications of this are almost limitless if an attacker manages to take control of your email account. Once that happens they can start issuing password reset requests on other sites, and start taking control of them as well. For that reason, protecting the security of your email account should always been first and foremost. Google for one agrees, and offers users the option of 2-factor authentication, which provides a very strong level of security. If you have a Google (Gmail) or Google Apps account, I recommend you go and set this up immediately. It only takes about 15 minutes.

Do you have any other password security practices that you would recommend? Do you have a story to share about an account being compromised? Do you have anything to share that I didn’t cover above? Please feel free to share in the comments below! Also — check back for part two of this article, coming soon!

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