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Designing a Logical Authentication Strategy
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Considerations for Deciding to Design an Account Lockout Policy
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As mentioned earlier, an account lockout policy is a technical control that can block account access. There are benefits and drawbacks to using an account lockout policy, and you must decide what is right for your organization. There are two schools of thought about whether using account lockout policies is a good idea. On one hand, an account lockout policy can prevent intrusion because it disables an account if multiple tries, or guesses at the password, have occurred. On the other hand, an account lockout policy can prevent legitimate but fumble-fingered or forgetful users from accessing critical data and might provide an opportunity for a suc cessful denial of service (DoS) attack. An attacker could launch a DoS attack by rapidly attempting to crack multiple passwords. When the incorrect passwords eventually trig ger account lockout, multiple users will be locked out of the domain and unable to do their work.
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In spite of the real possibility that an attacker might successfully cause denial of service to an entire domain by attempting to crack the passwords of a domain with an account lockout policy in effect, I have not been seeing reports on this. However, a number of account lockout policies have caused companies harm. Several clients have told me that they abandoned account lockout policies after Clevel (CEO, CIO, CTO, CSO, and so on) executives were locked out or when important sales were supposedly lost because top salesmen could not enter their password correctly and had no other way of reaching some required information.
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Guidelines for Designing an Account Lockout Policy
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If you decide to design an account lockout policy, you must understand the account policy lockout controls and the guidelines for designing the policy.
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Account Lockout Policy Controls
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When developing account controls, assume that a account lockout policy will be accepted, but keep reasons for rejection in mind. Table 6-8 lists and explains the account lockout policy.
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Lesson 3
Establishing Account and Password Requirements for Information Security
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Table 6-8 Account Lockout Policy
Control Account Lockout Duration
Default Not defined
Definition Number of minutes the account should be locked out. If the setting is set to 0, an account will remain locked out until an administrator or someone given the privi lege unlocks the account.
Account Lockout Threshold Reset Account Lockout Count After
0 invalid logon Number of incorrect passwords attempts that can be attempts entered. When the setting is 0, an account is never locked out because of incorrect attempts at access. Not defined Number of minutes before the number of incorrect attempts is reset to 0.
Account Lockout Policy Design Guidelines
When designing the account lockout policy, follow these guidelines:
Set account lockout duration to a few minutes. This does prevent casual attacks, and if auditing is set and properly reviewed, it can warn that an attack is underway. It also avoids the load on administrator time and the lost user productivity if users who lock out of their accounts must wait for them to be reset by someone else. Consider whether you have enough staff to attend to manually resetting accounts. Set account lockout threshold high. If users make a few mistakes, they will not be locked. A good number is 25 because it s probably way beyond any number of attempts a valid user will make before asking for his password to be reset. However, it will stop an intruder, who will need many more attempts than that.
Alternatives to Password-Based Authentication
Because password-based authentication is subject to many human weaknesses, you must be aware of and ready to recommend alternatives to password authentication. Many alternatives exist that provide the opportunity to require two factors: something the user must possess and something the user must know. Alternatives consist of:
Smart cards Smart card support is built into Windows Server 2003. It replaces the use of passwords with a plastic card and a personal identification number (PIN) and requires the implementation of certificate services. Smart card usage can be config ured to require logoff when removed thus preventing it from being shared and if users need the card elsewhere, they can ensure logoff when users leave their com puters. Smart cards can be used in remote scenarios as well. Smart cards can also provide the solution for when specific groups require stronger authentication smart cards can be used by administrators, while ordinary users continue to use passwords.
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