Cyber Security training from QA

Password security - it is not all about length and strength

QA Cyber Security Technical Consultant, Graeme Batsman, looks at simple and cheap options to prevent password cracking.


Graeme Batsman | 23 January 2019

Passwords, or sometimes pass phrases (a longer password made up of words), are the primary authentication system for pretty much everything and have been around for decades. From Twitter, Facebook, trading platforms and email mailboxes to sites where security is even more important, such as online banking. Weak passwords can be cracked. In some cases this takes just a few minutes. Tools such as dictionary password cracking uses a list of millions of passwords and can go through millions of passwords in under a minute.

Most people or businesses recommend a password of over 8 characters (in reality 12 or 14+ characters is best) made up of lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers and special characters (e.g. £*$ etc.). Ideally, a password would look like 'xNKc0<\e3U@WES', but this begs the question: can someone remember this, let alone a unique one for each website? A very secure password may be used but it can lead to people using it for every website login, or writing it down to help them remember it. Then all it takes is to steal one password and get access to someone's life.

PINs for credit and debit cards are a good example of how security measures can be effectively implemented, simply and cheaply. 0-9 are the options and four is the length. That may seem very short compared to a password of 8+ characters made up of varied letters, but the key difference is that the card locks after three attempts.

Most website login mechanisms will let you try hundreds of passwords. A clever one would slow the attempts down to make you wait ten seconds between each incorrect entry, lock you out for five minutes or make you call the company to verify your identity, thus making hundreds of false attempts take hours or days.

By following such simple and cheap options, password cracking can be drastically slowed down or stopped altogether.

Users can also mitigate the risk by creating a strong password or passphrase. The ideal password is long, complex, and easy-to-remember – but hard to break. Good passwords are often hard to remember so you can use the below guide method for creating either a non-dictionary password or a passphrase.

First pick a group of words:

Take each first character and make a word:

Add a random word at the end:

Further strengthen:

•I have a black labrador dog called charlie

•my house is in south-east london

•my favourite rock band is the beatles

•my favourite musical instrument is the saxophone

•I got married in paris in france

•ihabldcc

•mhiisel

•mfrbitb

•mfmiits

•igmipif

•ihabldccapple

•mhiiselemail

•mfrbitbmicro

•mfmiitsred

•igmipifebay

•ihabldcc@pple

•mhii$elemail

•mfrb1tbmicro

•mfmiits-red

•igmipif+ebay

 

If you would like to learn more about password security, please feel free to download the recording of our 'Cracking Passwords' webinar.

 

Visit cyber.qa.com for more information on how they can help solve the Cyber Security skills gap.

 

Graeme Batsman

Graeme Batsman

Cyber Security Technical Consultant

Graeme joined QA in 2017 and has worked in security on and off for 13 years. His last role was as a Senior Technical Security consultant at Capgemini covering public and private sector. From the age of 17 he was running investigations into online scams and phishing. Today his experience is in OSINT and thinking like a hacker to review + tweak settings with a fine tooth comb.
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