Vendors approve of NIST password draft

Standards group recommends removing periodic password change requirements

By Ryan Francis
May 10, 2017

Users usually find a way around restrictions like composition rules by substituting special characters for alphas. Because the bad guys already know all of the tricks, this adds very little, if nothing, to the true entropy of a password, he said. “Everyone knows that an exclamation point is a 1, or an I, or the last character of a password. $ is an S or a 5. If we use these well-known tricks, we aren’t fooling any adversary. We are simply fooling the database that stores passwords into thinking the user did something good.”

In terms of new requirements for passwords, he said NIST is excited to introduce password storage requirements, which makes an offline attack much harder. He said fundamentally the new revision does a better job recognizing the password has a valid role to play, if done right. “Yet we provided a slew of new options that gives agencies the ability to leverage the tools that users may already have, like a smartphone, or an authentication app, or a security key. This allows agencies to save money by not having to issue a physical device, but increase their security posture by accepting the strong authenticators users already have.”

Phil Dunkelberger, CEO of Nok Nok Labs, said the username and password paradigm is well past its expiration date. Increasing password complexity requirements and requiring frequent resets adds only marginal security while dramatically decreasing usability. 

“Most security professionals will acknowledge that while such policies look good on paper, they put a cognitive load on end users who respond by repeating passwords across sites and other measures to cope that dramatically weaken overall security. We are glad to see national organizations like NIST recommend an update and change to a paradigm that no longer works,” he said.


User reaction

Ran Shulkind, co-founder and chief product officer at SecuredTouch, said the new password guidelines make a lot of sense. “The volume of passwords people had to manage and the ‘special characters’ ended up making things less secure than they should have been. However, passwords are actually becoming much less important than they used to be. Threats are continuing to increase, and users are getting tired of entering usernames, passwords, and additional identifying codes – no matter the structure.”

Multifactor authentication (MFA) is becoming mandated in some industries and is voluntarily being adopted in others. It adds another layer of security to include something you know (password), something you have (token or SMS), or something you are (fingerprint or behavior), Shulkind said.

“Ultimately, it’s all about balancing security and the user experience. While MFA does enhance security, it can discourage the user from using the app or performing the transaction. That’s why organizations are looking for more user-friendly components, like behavioral biometrics to reduce friction, allowing for smoother device interactions and higher risk transactions,” he said.

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