Category Archives: password

The smarter the student, the stronger the password – study

A consulting director at Asia Pacific College (APC) in the Philippines decided to match student GPAs against the strength of their passwords. The findings suggest there is some degree of correlation between smarts and good password hygiene.

JV Roig, who is also a software developer in addition to dispensing his consulting expertise, compared the password hashes from APC’s 1,252 students to the database of leaked passwords maintained by the handy Have I Been Pwned? site created by security researcher Troy Hunt. The database holds a whopping 320 million exposed password hashes resulting from various data breaches over the years. The weakest passwords, and implicitly the most common ones, are found there.

Of the 1,252 students, 215 had a match in the database. Roig then looked at the students’ grade point average (GPA) and found that the lower the student’s GPA, the weaker the password and the greater the chance of it being fount in Hunt’s database.

“If we only take into account students with a GPA of at least 3.5, only 12.82 per cent of them use compromised passwords, which compares favorably to the population average of 17.17 per cent,” Roig wrote. “Looking at students with a minimum GPA of 3.0 results in 15.29 per cent compromised passwords, which is significantly closer to the population average.”

Roig thus determined that students with a higher GPA knew better than to use a weak password, versus students with a low GPA. However, he admitted the disparities were small, and the sample group not very large either.

“This shouldn’t be taken as the end-all or be-all of whether smarter people have better passwords, but merely one interesting data point in what could be an interesting series of further experiments,” he said.

It’s also worth noting that the single student who had a lower than 1.5 GPA also happened to use an unsafe password.

Encryption Is Only as Strong as Your Password

In recent months, the encryption debate has heated up once again. Most recently, some shock waves were sent across the industry when ThreatWire reported a new tool, known as GrayKey, which could decrypt the latest versions of the iPhone. Fortunately, that tool is only available to law enforcement agencies… for now. The point to be […]… Read More

The post Encryption Is Only as Strong as Your Password appeared first on The State of Security.

Despite Major Data Breaches, Users’ Bad Password Security Habits Haven’t Improved

Even though password security is a top priority for organizations, only 55 percent of users would change their credentials after a breach. That’s the sobering state of affairs detailed in “The Psychology of Passwords: Neglect Is Helping Hackers Win,” a new report from password management firm LastPass.

And bad habits don’t stop there. The report also found that 59 percent of respondents use the same password across multiple accounts. Despite the rising costs of data breach recovery and ongoing, large-scale compromises, LastPass found that “password behaviors remain largely unchanged from two years ago.”

A Persistent Problem

Companies around the world and across all sectors are struggling to protect user passwords. As noted by Wired, Twitter recently disclosed that it had inadvertently stored unencrypted passwords in an internal system. While Twitter typically hashes user passwords using bcrypt, a bug in its hashing protocol led to the unprotected storage of credentials that were kept even after hashing was complete.

Although the company said it doesn’t believe the information was accessed or used by cybercriminals, it advised all users to change their passwords for good measure. As noted by the LastPass report, however, just over half of users are likely to comply.

Also problematic is the common practice of employees sharing passwords for internal resources using tools such as Trello. According to Krebs on Security, simple web searches revealed “unprotected personal Trello boards that listed employer passwords and other sensitive data.”

This lines up with LastPass data, which found that, while 5 million records are compromised every day, it still takes organizations an average of 66 days to contain a breach. Posting passwords on public collaboration forums makes containment that much more difficult.

The Password Security Paradox

As noted by TechRepublic, the new report “confirms the paradoxical views many people have about passwords and highlights alarming trends in personal online security.” For example, 90 percent of users said they believe their online accounts are at risk regardless of the strength of their passwords and 91 percent recognize that password reuse heightens this risk. Meanwhile, 39 percent reported that they would never change their password if they were not required to do so.

Users also underestimated their total number of online accounts. While 79 percent of those asked said they had between one and 20 online accounts, LastPass found that, on average, employees were responsible for 191 passwords. Still, 59 percent of respondents said they mostly or always use the same password for different accounts, 51 percent don’t believe that cybercriminals can figure out their password, and 21 percent said they don’t see a problem with repeating the same password across accounts.

There’s a gap between user belief and behavior. Ninety-two percent of respondents said password security was a “serious matter,” yet 61 percent said they refuse to change passwords for fear of forgetting their login information.

Sandor Palfy, chief technology officer (CTO) of identity and access management at LastPass parent company LogMeIn, put it simply: “The cyberthreats facing consumers and businesses are becoming more targeted and successful, yet there remains a clear disconnect in users’ password beliefs and their willingness to take action.”

The post Despite Major Data Breaches, Users’ Bad Password Security Habits Haven’t Improved appeared first on Security Intelligence.

89% of top travel websites fail to protect your security

Researchers have put big-name travel and booking sites to the test to see how their security practices fare against other online services. If the results are anything to go by, we should all take extra precautions to secure our personal data when booking a flight and a hotel room, or renting a car.

Analyzing the data for its first Travel Website Password Power Rankings report, password manager developer Dashlane found that 89% of booking sites leave users’ accounts dangerously exposed to bad actors due to unsafe password practices.

The company tested each website on five critical criteria, and ranked each site’s performance on a five-star scoring system. The results were not good, as the chart above shows.

Notably, 96% of travel sites tested did not provide 2FA (two-factor authentication), where the system asks users to validate their identity on a second platform, such as their phone, or service, such as their email.

Most big-name booking and travel agencies, including, Hertz, American Airlines and InterContinental Group, scored poorly in areas like two-factor-authentication (2FA), and in assessing password strength when accounts are created.

And cruise company Norwegian Cruise Line flunked on all points of security best practices, receiving zero stars. At the other end of the spectrum lay hospitality service Airbnb, with 5 out of 5 stars.

“When compared to results of Dashlane’s 2017 rankings of leading consumer websites, and the more recent 2018 rankings comparing the cryptocurrency exchanges, travel sites performed especially poorly,” reads the report. “In the consumer rankings, which examined sites such as Apple, Facebook, and PayPal, only 36% received a failing score. That is in extremely stark contrast to the 89% of sites that failed Dashlane’s 2018 travel examination.”

Users are encouraged to employ a unique password for every online account they create. That password should be at least eight characters long with a mix of case-sensitive letters, numbers and special symbols.

But if other studies are any indication, convenience usually wins. That, perhaps, is at least part of the reason almost every big-name travel agency avoids turning their service into a cyber-security hassle.

59% of people use the same password everywhere, poll finds

Despite an increasingly dangerous threat landscape and heightened global awareness of hacking and data breaches, password hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. 91 percent of people know that password recycling poses huge security risks, yet 59 percent still use the same password everywhere.

Users’ behavior in creating and managing secret login data lags behind the rapid evolution of cyber threats, according to statistics compiled by password management experts at LogMeIn. This holds true both in people’s personal lives and at work.

The firm polled 2,000 users across the United States, Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and found that people are more aware of security best practices, but don’t necessarily apply them.

For example, the number one reason for password reuse is fear of forgetfulness.

“Not only do most respondents (59 percent) use the same password for multiple accounts, but many continue to use that password as long as possible — until required by IT to update or if impacted by a security incident. The fear of forgetfulness was the number one reason for reuse (61 percent), followed by wanting to know and be in control of all of their passwords (50 percent),” according to the report.

Businesses should pay closer attention to staffers’ password hygiene, with nearly 47 percent of respondents saying there is no difference in passwords created for personal and work accounts. 79 percent have between one and 20 online accounts for work and personal use. Only 19 percent are more careful with their work login details, and 38 percent never use the same password for work and personal accounts. Unfortunately, the other 62% percent do.

The survey even found distinct differences in the psychology of users who are diligent with their online credentials versus those who are less meticulous.

“Bad password behavior in Type A personalities stems from their need to be in control, whereas Type B personalities have a casual, laid-back attitude toward password security,” researchers found. “Respondents who identify as Type A personalities are more likely than Type B personalities to stay on top of password security: 77 percent put a lot of thought into password creation, compared to 67 percent of Type B. And Type A users consider themselves informed about password best practices (76 percent) over Type B users (68 percent).”

Lastly, 72% feel well informed on password best practices, but 64 percent of those also prefer a password that’s easy to remember, and they admitted they always choose convenience over security. And while 91 percent are aware of the risks of password recycling, 58 percent mostly or always use the same password or a similar variation of that password for most of their online accounts.

It’s important to give your passwords a refresh every once in a while, as you never know what data breach caused your personal data to leak onto the dark web, where bad actors can use that data for extortion, phishing scams, ransomware, or fraud.

And while a trusted AV solution limits the attack surface for cybercrooks, it’s still your duty – and your duty only – to keep your login credentials safe from prying eyes.

Smashing Security #076: Spying phones, hacked ski lifts, and World Password Day

Smashing Security #076: Spying phones, hacked ski lifts, and World Password Day

Cheap Android smartphones sold on Amazon have been sending customers’ full text messages to a Chinese server, ski lifts are found to be the latest devices left open to abuse by hackers, and we remind you why password managers are a good idea on World Password Day. Oh, and our guest serenades us with a hit from the 1980s!

All this and more is discussed in the latest edition of the “Smashing Security” podcast by computer security veterans Graham Cluley and Carole Theriault, joined this week by broadcaster and journalist David McClelland.

Let’s stop talking about password strength

Picture from EFF -- CC-BY license
Near the top of most security recommendations is to use "strong passwords". We need to stop doing this.

Yes, weak passwords can be a problem. If a website gets hacked, weak passwords are easier to crack. It's not that this is wrong advice.

On the other hand, it's not particularly good advice, either. It's far down the list of important advice that people need to remember. "Weak passwords" are nowhere near the risk of "password reuse". When your Facebook or email account gets hacked, it's because you used the same password across many websites, not because you used a weak password.

Important websites, where the strength of your password matters, already take care of the problem. They use strong, salted hashes on the backend to protect the password. On the frontend, they force passwords to be a certain length and a certain complexity. Maybe the better advice is to not trust any website that doesn't enforce stronger passwords (minimum of 8 characters consisting of both letters and non-letters).

To some extent, this "strong password" advice has become obsolete. A decade ago, websites had poor protection (MD5 hashes) and no enforcement of complexity, so it was up to the user to choose strong passwords. Now that important websites have changed their behavior, such as using bcrypt, there is less onus on the user.

But the real issue here is that "strong password" advice reflects the evil, authoritarian impulses of the infosec community. Instead of measuring insecurity in terms of costs vs. benefits, risks vs. rewards, we insist that it's an issue of moral weakness. We pretend that flaws happen because people are greedy, lazy, and ignorant. We pretend that security is its own goal, a benefit we should achieve, rather than a cost we must endure.

We like giving moral advice because it's easy: just be "stronger". Discussing "password reuse" is more complicated, forcing us discuss password managers, writing down passwords on paper, that it's okay to reuse passwords for crappy websites you don't care about, and so on.

What I'm trying to say is that the moral weakness here is us. Rather then give pertinent advice we give lazy advice. We give the advice that victim shames them for being weak while pretending that we are strong.

So stop telling people to use strong passwords. It's crass advice on your part and largely unhelpful for your audience, distracting them from the more important things.

POLL: Do you use two-factor authentication?

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month in the US, and European Cyber Security Month in Europe. Basically, institutions in these two countries have decided that it’s time for people to get serious about cybersecurity. And they’re right to do it – according to F-Secure’s Business Security Insider blog, there was 81 cyberattacks every minute in 2014.

So hacking is a serious business for these attackers. And one security measure that experts would like to see used more widely is two-factor authentication.


Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication refers to using more than one piece of information to safeguard access to accounts. Many popular services, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer it to users. However, very few services require it. It’s really more of an option for people interested in having a little bit of extra security for their accounts. A recent survey from Google points out that 89 percent of security experts use two-factor authentication for at least one of their online accounts.

But it’s less popular amongst non-experts. Only 62 percent of non-expert respondents to Google’s survey used two-factor authentication. Other studies indicate that two-factor authentication may be even less popular, with one recent consumer survey finding that 56 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with two-factor authentication.

Although two-factor authentication has been around for ages, it’s starting to become offered by many online services. Passwords are currently the standard in account security, but adding in two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security. It basically means anyone that gets access to your password will essentially only have “half a key” to your account.

So why don’t more people use it? After all, nearly 80 percent of people are open to alternatives to traditional passwords. One reason might be that it’s too difficult or inconvenient. But the widespread use of mobile devices is making this much easier. Email and SMS messages seem to be easiest and the most popular, with one study finding almost 90 percent of participants using two-factor authentication did so by receiving a code through SMS or email, which they could then enter into a website to confirm their identity.

Another reason could be availability. It’s up to companies and organizations providing online accounts to offer two-factor authentication to customers. This website provides a pretty good list of different online services offering two-factor authentication, so it’s a pretty handy resource. You can also use the site to send tweets to companies not offering two-factor authentication (so don’t hesitate to send a message if you want someone providing you with a service to improve their account security features).

If you crunch the numbers provided by the site, you can get an idea about how common two-factor authentication is for different kinds of services:

  • Cryptocurrencies: 96%
  • Identity Management: 93%
  • Cloud Computing: 77%
  • Gaming: 69%
  • Hosting/VPS: 69%
  • Email: 65%
  • Domains: 65%
  • Developers: 63%
  • Communication: 62%
  • Backup and Sync Services: 60%
  • Investing: 38%
  • Banking and Financial Services: 35%
  • Health: 30%
  • Finance: 28%
  • Education: 25%
  • Entertainment: 7%

So two-factor authentication is definitely more prominent in some industries than others. F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan says that it’s definitely worth choosing services offering two-factor authentication, especially for important accounts that you use daily, or contain really sensitive information.

“You should figure out what accounts are critical and focus on securing those by using strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication,” he says. “Lots of companies will offer a monthly or periodic two-factor authentication check, which requires you to enter a code you receive via SMS into a pre-defined phone or computer. It’s really worth having a primary email account with one of these services, as you can centralize information there instead of spreading it around, which makes it easier to stay in control of your accounts.”

Next time you’re thinking about setting up an online account somewhere, you may want to circle back to whether or not they offer two-factor authentication. With the number of devices expected to explode as the Internet of Things becomes more and more popular, it only makes sense to consider whether you’re information is as secure as you’d like.

[ Image by momentcaptured1 | Flickr ]

3 Password Tips from the Pros

Passwords are the keys to online accounts. A good password known only to account owners can ensure email, social media accounts, bank accounts, etc. stay accessible only to the person (or people) that need them. But a bad password will do little to prevent people from getting access to those accounts, and can expose you to serious security risks (such as identity theft). And sadly, many people continue to recycle easy to guess/crack passwords.

A recent study conducted by researchers from Google attempted to nail down the most common pieces of advice and practices recommended by security researchers, and unsurprisingly, several of them had to do with passwords. And there were several gaps between what security experts recommend people do when creating passwords, and what actually happens. Here’s 3 expert tips to help you use passwords to keep your accounts safe and secure.

  1. Unique Passwords are Better than Strong Passwords

One thing experts recommend doing is to choose a strong and unique password – advice many people hear but few actually follow. Chances are, if your password is on this computer science professor’s dress, it’s not keeping your accounts particularly secure.

Many major online service providers automatically force you to choose a password that follows certain guidelines (such as length and character combinations), and even provide you feedback on the password’s strength. But security researchers such as F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan say that, while strong passwords are important, the value of choosing unique passwords is an equally important part of securing your account.

Basically, using unique passwords means you shouldn’t recycle the same password for use with several different accounts, or even slight variations of the same word or phrase. Google likens that to having one key for all the doors in your house, as well as your car and office. Each service should get its own password. That way, one compromised account won’t give someone else the keys to everything you do online.

A strong password will be long, use combinations of upper-case and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. The password should also be a term or phrase that is personal to you – and not a phrase or slogan familiar to the general public, or something people that know you could easily guess. But there are still many ways to compromise these passwords, as proven by The Great Politician Hack.

So using unique passwords prevents criminals, spies, etc. from using one compromised password to access several different services. Sullivan says choosing strong and unique passwords for critical accounts – such as online banking, work related email or social media accounts, or cloud storage services containing personal documents – is a vital part of having good account security.

  1. Experts Use Password Managers for a Reason

One study showed that the average Internet user has 26 different online accounts. Assuming you’re choosing unique passwords, and you fit the bill of an “average Internet user”, you’ll find yourself with a large number of passwords. You’ve now made your account so safe and secure that you can’t even use it!

That’s why experts recommend using a password manager. Password managers can help people maintain strong account security by letting them choose strong and unique passwords for each account, and store them securely so that they’re centralized and accessible. Keeping 26 or more online accounts secure with strong and unique passwords known only to you is what password managers do to keep your data safe, which is why 73% of experts that took part in Google’s study use them, compared to just 24% of non-experts.

  1. Take Advantage of Additional Security Features

Another great way to secure accounts is to activate two-factor authentication whenever it’s made available. Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication essentially uses two different methods to verify the identity of a particular account holder. An example of this would be protecting your account with a password, but also having your phone number registered as a back-up, so any kind of password reset done on the account makes use of your phone to verify you are who you say you are.

While the availability of this option may be limited, security experts recommend taking advantage of it whenever you can. You can find a list of some popular services that use two-factor authentication here, as well as some other great tips for using passwords to keep your online accounts secure.

[Photo by geralt | Pixabay]