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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Password Security: How to Really ‘Own IT’ for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) is in its 16th year. The theme for 2019 – Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT. – is focused on encouraging personal accountability and proactive behavior in security best practices and digital privacy. Considering that individually we are picking up our smartphones on average of 77 times a day and spending nearly 12 hours a day in front of a screen, the digital lines between work and personal lives are all but gone. With nearly every facet of our lives impacted by what we do online, NCSAM calls to action this year include:

  • Own IT. If you are reading this, you are using a digital device. Whether you own the device or not, we are all responsible for how we use them – from the data they store and transmit to the information we post online about ourselves and others, or share with other third parties. We are all responsible for our digital footprints, including the data apps collect and transmit from these devices.
  • Secure IT. If you own it, you must secure it, from strong credentials (unique usernames, passwords/passphrases, and multifactor authentication) to physical access. This includes securing computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps, and website logins.
  • Protect IT. If you own it, you must protect it with security updates and safe browsing practices. Stored information, including personal and customer/consumer data that you gather from others, must also be protected. Every organization has a duty to safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data obtained from other persons.

Struggle with Passwords Continues

After all of these years, we are still terrible at creating and managing passwords. Year after year the most commonly used (and breached) passwords still include – you got it – ‘password’ and ‘12345678.’ Variations like ‘p@$$w0rd’ are not any better as they contain common substitutions such as ‘@’ for ‘a,’ etc. Given these shortcomings, password hygiene is a leading topic any time of year, but as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month continues it is a good time for another reminder for organizations to do better at helping employees improve password management.

Password Security: How to Really 'Own IT' for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Homeland Security TodayIt is no secret that passwords alone are not the best method to safeguard our digital assets, especially weak passwords. Password security firm LastPass recently published its 3rd Annual Global Password Security Report, which highlights how employees’ continued poor password habits weaken the overall organizational security posture. To affect positive password changes, it is up to organizations to take action to improve password hygiene. Read on for three simple and effective low-cost and no-cost solutions companies and their employees should apply today to start improving overall security and reduce risk posed from stolen passwords.

Longer Passwords Take Longer to Crack

Enforcing the use of longer passwords or passphrases can go a long way. Depending on computing power (and other factors), it could take approximately 23 seconds to crack ‘football1’ (or similar) vs. over 10,000 centuries to crack ‘R73&nebp@98backyard45’ or ‘tHe!weatheriscoLd67outside?’. In addition to making passwords longer, not reusing them across multiple sites and services cannot be overstated. Even if a password is stolen, if it is only used for a single site or service, cyber thieves can only potentially compromise that single account, not the entire kingdom.

Passwords Aren’t Perfect, but MFA Could Save the Day

Adding multifactor authentication (MFA) is another quick win. MFA does not guarantee an account will not be compromised, but it does significantly reduce that likelihood. Authenticator apps like Duo, Authy, and Google Authenticator provide low-cost, no-cost, hassle-free options to add an additional layer of security to the authentication process. This extra step reduces the risk a malicious attacker would be able to successfully log in and compromise valuable accounts, even with a stolen password.

The “Problem” with Password Managers

Password managers store passwords and create strong (and long) passwords so you do not have to – what’s wrong with that? Skeptical about password managers? Password managers don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be better than not having one, says cybersecurity expert Troy Hunt (founder of haveibeenpwned). Other quips by Troy: The only secure password is the one you can’t remember, and when accounts are “hacked” due to poor passwords, victims must share the blame. There are several reputable password managers to choose from, but if you are looking for “go here, do this” for picking a “good” one, check out Troy’s post on why he partnered with 1Password. On a final note, the aforementioned LastPass Global Security Report found that password manager adoption increases when it is convenient. If employees can access and use password managers from their smartphone or other device of their choice, they are more likely to use it. So, what IS the “problem” with password managers? They simply are not used enough.

Cybersecurity Awareness All Year

While October is designated NCSAM, cybersecurity awareness is far from a once-a-year activity. NCSAM materials provide proactive awareness content to use throughout the year. So, while you are sipping that long-awaited (or 100th) pumpkin spice latte, review NCSAM materials for tips, resources, webinars, and workshops. In addition, it is not too late to demonstrate your cybersecurity awareness commitment by becoming an NCSAM Champion. Some of the best NCSAM Champions come from the information-sharing community – WaterISAC, Research & Education Networks ISAC (REN-ISAC), Information Technology ISAC (IT-ISAC), Retail & Hospitality ISAC (RH-ISAC), National Council of ISACs (NCI), Faith-Based ISAO (FB-ISAO), InfraGardNCR, and InfraGard Los Angeles – and they are ensuring organizations and consumers have the resources to stay safer and more secure online. Follow #BeCyberSmart and #CyberAware on social media for great security awareness tips from the NCSAM Champions and others.

Finally, NCSAM is a great time to bolster or jump-start your cybersecurity awareness program. Interested in a ready-made program to plug into your organization? The Cyber Readiness Institute (CRI) may have just the program! Founded by the CEOs of Mastercard, Microsoft, the Center for Global Enterprise, and PSP Partners, CRI’s Cyber Readiness Program is a no-cost, practical, step-by-step guide to help small- and medium-sized enterprises become cyber ready. Completing the program will help make your organization safer, more secure, and stronger in the face of cyber threats.

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Jennifer Lyn Walker
Jennifer Lyn Walker
Jennifer Lyn Walker serves as Director, Cybersecurity Services for The Gate 15 Company, and currently supports WaterISAC as a cybersecurity threat analyst. She is a cybersecurity professional with over eighteen years’ experience supporting critical infrastructure and SLTT governments. Jennifer advises and consults on cyber threats related to homeland security for critical infrastructure and vital lifeline sectors. She is experienced in malware analysis, threat assessments, cyber threat intelligence, compliance, and cybersecurity awareness.

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