Usernames and Passwords in Software

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Usernames and Passwords
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Policies regarding selection of usernames and passwords must weigh usability versus security At one end of the spectrum is usability, which would dictate that the username be simple and easy to remember, such as the user s first and last name separated by a period or the user s first initial followed by the last name This makes it easy for the user to remember the user (account) name and makes it easy for other individuals to remember a user s username (since the username and e-mail name are generally similar) At the same time, however, adhering to a simple policy such as this also makes it easy for a potential attacker to guess a valid account name, which can then be used in an attempt to guess a username/password combination At the other end of the spectrum is the generation of a completely random series of characters (such as xzf258) to be assigned to a user for a username Aliases can be used for e-mail so that the more common first name/last name format can still be used for communication with users The advantage of this random assignment is that it will be more difficult for an attacker to guess a valid username; however, it has the disadvantage of being difficult for the user to remember Most operating systems now include a password generation utility that helps users select their passwords Such utilities use parameters that affect the passwords complexity, which in turn affects the ability for it to be guessed as well as for the user to remember it Generally, the easier it is to remember the easier it will be to guess Again, it is possible to generate completely random passwords, but these are difficult for users to remember Restrictions on password generation can be eased so that the user can select a password that is easier to remember, but some general rules should still be followed Passwords should contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase characters, special characters, and numbers They should be at least eight characters in length and they should not be related to the username
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Some systems allow for the specification of time of day restrictions in their access control policies This means that a user s access to the system or specific resources can be restricted to certain times of the day and days of the week If a user normally accesses certain resources during normal business hours, an attempt to access these resources outside this time period (either at night or on the weekend) might indicate an attacker has gained access to the account Specifying time of day restrictions can also serve as a mechanism to enforce internal controls of critical or sensitive resources Obviously, a drawback to enforcing time of day restrictions is that it means that a user can t go to
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2: Operational Organizational Security
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work outside of normal hours in order to catch up with work tasks As with all security policies, usability and security must be balanced in this policy decision PART I
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Another common restriction that can be enforced in many access control mechanisms is either (or both) an account expiration or password expiration feature This allows administrators to specify a period of time for which a password or an account will be active For password expiration, when the expiration date is reached, the user will generally be asked to create a new password This means that if the password (and thus the account) has been compromised when the expiration date is reached and a new password is set, the attacker will again (hopefully) be locked out of the system The attacker can t change the password himself since the user would then be locked out and would contact an administrator to have the password reset, thus again locking out the attacker The attacker could set a new password, and then attempt to reset it to the original password This would mean that a new expiration time would be set for the account but would keep the same password and would not lock the user out This is one reason why a password history mechanism should be used The history is used to keep track of previously used passwords so that they cannot be reused An account expiration is similar, except that it is generally put in place because a specific account is intended for a specific purpose of limited duration When an account has expired, it cannot be used unless the expiration deadline is extended
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