For years, I’ve been reading predictions about new technologies that will render passwords obsolete. Then I click through and inspect the details and I wind up shaking my head. There are plenty of clever identity technologies working their way into the mainstream, but passwords will remain a necessary evil for many years to come.
And unless you want to be a sitting duck on the Internet, you need a strategy for managing those passwords. Large organizations can create sensible password policies and use single-sign-on software, but small businesses and individuals are on their own.
Also: The Best Password Managers of 2019 CNET
As best practices go, the rules for creating passwords are simple: Use a random combination of numbers, symbols, and mixed-case letters; never reuse passwords; turn on two-factor authentication if it’s available.
There’s some disagreement on whether you should change passwords regularly. I think there’s a strong case to be made for changing passwords every year or so, if only to avoid being innocently caught up in a database breach.
And, as far as I am concerned, the most important rule of all is use a password manager.
I have used several software-based password managers over the years and can’t imagine trying to get through the day without one.
I know people who keep password lists in an encrypted file of some sort. That’s exactly what a software-based password manager does. But that’s where the resemblance stops.
In this article, I explain why I consider a password manager essential, with links to five programs that I recommend. I also tackle some of the arguments I routinely hear from skeptics.
The case for password managers
The five programs that I have examined for this article are all similar in their core features. On a Windows PC or a Mac, you install a program that does the work of saving sets of credentials in a database whose contents are protected with AES-256 encryption. To unlock the password database, you enter a decryption key (your master password) that only you know.
Password managers that sync your password database to the cloud use end-to-end encryption. The data is encrypted before it leaves your device, and it stays encrypted as it’s transferred to the remote server. When you sign in to the app on your local device, the program sends a one-way hash of the password that identifies you but can’t be used to unlock the file itself.
Also: Why nearly 50% of organizations are failing at password security TechRepublic
The companies that manage and sync those saved files don’t have access to the decryption keys. In fact, your master password isn’t stored anywhere, and if you forget it, you’re out of luck. There’s no known way to crack an AES-256 encrypted file that’s protected with a strong personal key.
That architecture offers five distinct advantages over a DIY solution.
One: Browser Integration
Most password managers include browser extensions that automatically save credentials when you create a new account or sign in using those credentials for the first time. That browser integration also allows you to automatically enter credentials when you visit a matching website.
Contrast that approach with the inevitable friction of a manual list. You don’t need to find a file and add a password to it to save a new or changed set of credentials, and you don’t need to find and open that same file to copy and paste your password.
Two: Password Generation
Every password manager worth its salted hash includes a password generator capable of instantly producing a truly random, never-before-used-by-you password. If you don’t like that password, you can click to generate another. You can then use that random password when creating a new account or changing credentials for an existing one.
Most password managers also allow you to customize the length and complexity of a generated password so you can deal with sites that have peculiar password rules.
With the possible exceptions of John Forbes Nash, Jr., and Raymond Babbitt, mere mortals are not capable of such feats of randomization.
Three: Phishing Protection
Integrating a password manager with a browser is superb protection against phishing sites. If you visit a site that has managed to perfectly duplicate your bank’s login page and even mess with the URL display to make it look legit, you might be fooled. Your password manager, on the other hand, won’t enter your saved credentials, because the URL of the fake site doesn’t match the legitimate domain associated with them.
Also: Google releases Chrome extension to check for leaked usernames and passwords
That phishing protection is probably the most underrated feature of all. If you manage passwords manually, by copying and pasting from an encrypted personal file, you will paste your username and password into the respective fields on that well-designed fake page, because you don’t realize it’s fake.
Four: Cross Platform Access
Password managers work across devices, including PCs, Macs, and mobile devices, with the option to sync your encrypted password database to the cloud. Access to that file and its contents can be secured with biometric authentication and 2FA.
By contrast, if you manage passwords in an encrypted file that’s saved locally, you have to manually copy that file to other devices (or keep it in the cloud in a location under your personal control), and then make sure the contents of each copy stay in sync. More friction.
Five: Surveillance Safeguard
Password managers generally offer good protection against “shoulder surfing.” An attacker who’s able to watch you type, either live or with the help of a surveillance camera, can steal your login credentials with ease. Password managers never expose those details.
Even armed with those arguments, when I make that recommendation to other people, I typically hear the same excuses.
“I already have a perfectly good system for managing passwords.”
Usually, this system involves reusing an easy-to-remember base password of some sort, tacking on a special suffix or prefix attached to that base on a per-site basis. The trouble with that scheme is that those passwords aren’t random, and if someone figures out your pattern, they pretty much have a skeleton key to unlock everything. And a 2013 research paper from computer scientists at the University of Illinois, Princeton, and Indiana University, The Tangled Web of Password Reuse, demonstrated that attackers can figure out those patterns very, very quickly.
More importantly, this sort of scheme doesn’t scale. Eventually it collides with the password rules at a site that, say, doesn’t allow special characters or restricts password length. (I know, that’s nuts, but those sites exist.) Or a service forces you to change your password and won’t accept your new password because it’s too close to the previous one and now you have another exception to your system that you have to keep track of.
Also: How to manage your passwords effectively with KeePass TechRepublic
And so you wind up keeping an encrypted list of passwords that are not exactly unique and not exactly random, and not at all secure. Why not just use software built for this purpose?
“If someone steals my password file, they have all my passwords.”
No, they don’t. They have an encrypted file that is, for all intents and purposes, useless gibberish. The only way to extract its secrets is with the decryption key, which you and you alone know.
Of course, this assumes you’ve followed some reasonable precautions with that decryption key. Specifically, that you’ve made it long enough, that it can’t be guessed even by someone who knows you well, and that you’ve never used it for anything else.
If you need a strong and unique password, you can generate one at correcthorsebatterystaple.net, which uses the surprisingly secure methodology from this classic XKCD cartoon.
You definitely shouldn’t write that key down on a sticky note or a piece of paper in your desk drawer, either. But you might want to write down that password and store it in a very safe place or with a very trusted person, along with instructions for how to use it to unlock your password file in the event something happens to you.
“I don’t trust someone else to store my passwords on their server.”
I understand the instinctive reaction that allowing a cloud service to keep your full database of passwords must be a horrifying security risk. Like anything cloud-related, there’s a trade-off between convenience and security, but that risk is relatively low if the service follows best practices for encryption and you’ve set a strong master password.
But if you just don’t trust the cloud, you have alternatives.
Also: 57% of IT workers who get phished don’t change their password behaviors TechRepublic
Several of the password managers I’ve looked at offer the option to store a local-only copy of your AES-256 encrypted file, with no sync features whatsoever. If you choose that option, you’ll have to either forgo the option to use your password manager on multiple sites or devise a way to manually sync those files between different devices.
As a middle ground, you can use a personal cloud service to sync your password files. 1Password, for example, supports automatic syncing to both Dropbox and iCloud, ensuring that you’re protected even if one of those services is compromised.
“I’m not a target.”
Yes, you are.
If you’re a journalist working on security issues, or an activist in a country whose leaders don’t approve of activism, or a staffer on a high-profile political campaign, or a contractor that communicates with people in sensitive industries, you’re a high-value target. Anyone who fits in one of those categories should take opsec seriously, and a password manager is an essential part of a well-layered security program.
But even if you’re not an obvious candidate for targeted attacks, you can be swept up in a website breach. That’s why Have I Been Pwned? exists. It’s easy enough for a compromised website to force you to reset your password, minimizing the risk of that breach, but if you’ve used that same combination of credentials elsewhere, you’re at serious risk.
Five password managers worth considering
I have personally used all the programs in this list. For each one, I’ve included pricing details as well as a link to security information. Every paid program offers a free trial; I recommend taking advantage of those trials to see if a program is right for you.
Although this product earned its reputation on Apple devices, it has embraced Windows, Android, and Chrome OS as well. Personal subscriptions are $3 per month; a family option is $5 a month (both prices require annual billing). Password files can be stored locally, synced from 1Password’s servers, or connected to a Dropbox or iCloud account. Team, Business, and Enterprise accounts add 2-factor authentication and start at $4 per user per month. Security details here.
The youngest member of the group has been around for more than six years and has earned a reputation for ease of use. Apps are available for Windows PCs, Macs, Android, and iOS. If your password database includes fewer than 50 entries, you can get by with the free version. The $5-per-month Premium version includes a VPN option, and the $10-a-month bundle adds credit monitoring and identity theft features. Business plans include the same features as Premium, at $4 per user per month. Security details here.
If you’re cloud-phobic or if you insist on open source software, this is your option. KeePass runs on every desktop and mobile platform, including most Linux distros, and it’s free (as in beer). Files are stored locally, and you’ll want to master its arcane keyboard shortcuts to fill in passwords automatically. Browser integration is available via third-party plugins; for multi-device use, the program’s built-in sync engine automatically updates the password database in whatever cloud-based storage location you specify. Security details here.
Arguably the best known of the bunch, LastPass is free and works on all major desktop and mobile platforms. The service is cloud-based only, with files stored on the company’s servers and synced to local devices. A Premium version ($3 a month) supports advanced 2-factor authentication options; $4 a month covers a family of up to five. Business plans start at $4 per user per month. LastPass suffered an embarrassing data breach in 2015, shortly before the company was acquired by LogMeIn. Security details here.
Launched in 2000, RoboForm is by far the most senior member of the category. The free version supports unlimited logins and stores its database file locally. RoboForm Everywhere is a $24-a-year subscription service that adds cloud backup, sync, and 2-factor authentication features. The Family option ($48 a year) covers up to five users, and business plans cost $35 per user. Discounts are available for multi-year purchases. Security details here.
Affiliate disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from the products and services featured on this page.
Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management
Endpoint management is one of the most significant challenges in the enterprise today. An increasingly large percentage of our workforce is distributed and demands flexibility to work wherever they want, whenever they want. We must respond by giving them access to the services they require to do their jobs effectively. The alternative is that we, as a business, will suffer, lose good people, and become less competitive. However, we must achieve this essential access while maintaining security and control of our business’s data assets.
An appropriate endpoint management strategy is key to addressing these issues. Our approach should be holistic and unified, bringing together control of devices, management of applications, security of data, and access controls.
Unified endpoint management (UEM) is the approach to meeting this challenge. It has evolved from traditionally disparate solutions for endpoint management, application delivery, and security into a single platform. This single platform delivers a consistent end-user experience across all devices, applications, and locations while maintaining security and control of data assets. The leading solutions allow us to enroll devices easily into our control, provide support, and ensure constituency and compliance while managing access to our applications and data.
This GigaOM Key Criteria Report describes UEM solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products that excel in this sector. Together, these reports give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.
How to Read this Report
This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.
GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.
Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.
The post Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management appeared first on Gigaom.
Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs
Join GigaOm analyst Enrico Signoretti and CTERA CTO Aron Brand in this one-hour live webinar as they explore file storage trends and dynamics through the lens of IT infrastructure modernization projects.
The file and cloud experts will discuss the limitations of traditional NAS architectures in today’s corporate environments and how organizations are implementing distributed cloud file storage to solve remote collaboration, ransomware protection, and unstructured data growth challenges.
Signoretti and Brand will also examine the recently published GigaOm Radar for Distributed Cloud File Storage, in which CTERA was named the leader. They will review the report’s key criteria and evaluation metrics for choosing a distributed cloud file storage platform, helping IT leaders to understand which vendors are most aligned to their needs today as well as 12-18 months down the road.
The post Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs appeared first on Gigaom.
High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms
This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research features analyst Jake Dolezal and will focus on comparing Web Application Firewall (WAF) security platforms in an enterprise with high performance needs.
This webinar will discuss web application security mechanisms deployed in the cloud. The cloud enables enterprises to differentiate and innovate with microservices at a rapid pace. However, the cloud is just as vulnerable, if not more so, to attacks and breaches as on-premises APIs and apps are. Our focus is specifically on approaches to securing apps, APIs, and microservices that are tuned for high performance and availability. We define “high performance” as companies that experience workloads of more than 1,000 transactions per second (tps) and require a maximum latency below 30 milliseconds across the landscape.
In this webinar, we will reveal the performance tests of security mechanisms on NGINX, AWS, and Azure, specifically: ModSecurity, NGINX App Protect WAF, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), and Azure WAF.
Register now to join GigaOm and NGINX for this free expert webinar.
The post High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms appeared first on Gigaom.
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