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Start Page: Protecting those pesky passwords is necessary evil

Kim Brand
January 4, 2012
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StartPageBrand.jpgYou are bad at managing passwords. You may be a good attorney – but you share your passwords with other people, you use the same password on multiple systems, your password is too short or too simple or written on a Post-it note under your keyboard. The truth is: you don’t like passwords or complicated password policies and you don’t think a secure password is worth the trouble.

That was, until the consequences of a data breach made it worth the trouble. That day has come. In fact, that day came long ago. You’ve just been lucky.

Some data breaches are not the result of compromised passwords. Faulty software can expose private data. Your PC can get infected with a virus that delivers your files into the clutches of a server operated by organized crime. Your laptop can get stolen or an emBrand-010612.gifployee may lose your backup on the “thumb drive” he keeps with his keys. All these troubles may lead to data leaks – but cracked passwords are too common and indefensible; you can actually “fix” this source of leaks if you set your mind to it.

By changing your password often you can prevent someone who had access to your account today from having it tomorrow. Passwords that last forever may outlast relationships. Pick a cycle: change of seasons, start and end of school, national holidays or some other easily memorable way to mark the passage of time and use that event as a reminder to change your password.

Complex passwords don’t have to be complicated. With a few simple tricks you can make up passwords that are nearly impossible to guess but easy to remember.

• Use a mix of capital and lower case letters

• Use at least eight characters

• Use numbers and punctuation marks

• Use symbols: %, $, @, etc.

Tech Tip: you can substitute symbols that have a similar appearance:

@ = a

$ = s

0 (zero) for o (oh)

! or 1 for i

3 for e (note that it is just backwards, like: z for s

• Don’t use a word you could find in a dictionary

• Don’t use your name or anyone else’s

• Don’t use a sequence of numbers or letters: 1234 … or abcd … or a phone number

There are 70 times more combinations of nine characters than eight – so pick a longer password if possible.

Analysis of a data breach at a web services provider with millions of users uncovered that the most popular password used was “123456” – the second most popular: password. Don’t be a statistic!

One simple scheme to create a complex password is to join common words separated by special characters. The first part might be “Winter,” “Summer,” “Football,” or “Baseball.” The “season” will be obvious based on the time of year. Then separate them with a special character. For added security, substitute symbols for letters. Here is an example:

W!nter$2o12 – This substitutes 1 for i and o for 0.

If you use the same password everywhere then someone who guesses it will have access to everything. One trick is to add a prefix to identify which device or service the password is for. This way you don’t need to remember lots of passwords, but each one will still be unique.

• For your email: EMail#W!nter$2o12

• For your bank: Bank#W!nter$2o12

• For your computer: PC#W!nter$2o12

• For your Facebook account: FB#W!nter$2o12


Other password strategies include using the first initial of words in a short phrase or breaking up a phrase into parts. Here are five passwords based on a common phrase:


N!tTime4 Now is the time for

Allg00d$ All good

M3n2C0m! Men to come

2the@id0F To the Aid of

The1rC0untry Their Country

Safeguard your passwords. We’ve seen passwords written on whiteboards and collected in spreadsheets shared by everyone in a firm. The problem with shared passwords goes beyond information that may be shared with the wrong people. If someone has your password they can pretend to be you. One of our customer’s email accounts was hacked simply for the purpose of sending tens of thousands of messages that appeared to come from him.

Use a strong password for every system. Even a compromised Facebook account can lead to embarrassing consequences. If you employ people who use passwords make sure they comply with these rules too; and that goes double for IT consultants and other contractors that touch your systems.

Bill Gates famously decreed in 2004 that passwords were dead. There have been inroads made by so-called “two factor” solutions – those that combine something you “know” like a password and something you “have” like a digital “token” (the Yubi Key is my favorite) or something you “are” like a fingerprint – but logins and passwords remain ubiquitous and probably will for a long time.

Make a New Year’s resolution to create a simple password policy that protects your reputation and confidential materials – before you regret it!•

__________

Kim Brand is a technology expert and president of Computer Experts Inc., a 27-year-old IT services company in Indianapolis. He has presented to local and state bar audiences and written for West Publishing and the ILTA. Kim contributed to the “On-Premises” section of the recently released ILTSO.org legal technical standards, and he is the inventor of the FileSafe Server used by many law firms. He may be reached at Kim@ComputerExpertsIndy.com or by phone at 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are the author’s.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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