More than 90 billion passwords are being used across the web today, and it’s expected to be nearer 300 billion by 2020. With that in mind, the topics of password best practices and the threats around stolen credentials, remain top challenges for many global organizations.
Security Boulevard recently hosted a webinar with Shape and cyber security expert Justin Richer, co-author of the new NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Digital Identity Guidelines. The webinar looks at how password protection and password attack prevention have evolved.
Traditional P@$$wOrd Guidelines Don’t Solve the Problem
Justin Richer discusses how passwords were originally invented as a way to gain entry. But today they have evolved into a way to authenticate who you are. Companies rely on a username-password combination to give them confidence you are who you say you are. So once passwords are stolen, companies have less and less confidence you are the person you claim to be.
To make it difficult for criminals to steal your identity companies have implemented complex password requirements. Unfortunately, this conventional wisdom around password management, such as enforced rotation every six months, using at least six characters, upper and lowercase characters, numbers and symbols, have made passwords hard to remember.
Additionally, for non-English languages, not all these rules can be applied regarding uppercase and lowercase. They also don’t always adapt to the world of mobile devices where it’s hard to type using touch screens, and the emerging technology of voice recognition personal assistants.
In the end, users reuse passwords that are easy to remember and pick bad passwords due to password fatigue. As a result, traditional password guidelines don’t help companies gain confidence—they are actually compounding the problem.
The Real Culprit – Password Reuse
In reality the problem companies are fighting is password reuse. Once one account has been compromised, the attackers have access to multiple accounts that use the same username and password. Fraudsters may use these accounts themselves, but often they bundle up the stolen credentials and sell the passwords on the dark web.
New NIST guidelines serve to help companies reduce password fatigue and reuse, while also providing suggestions for testing new passwords against a database of stolen credentials—a breach corpus. When the two are implemented together, fraudsters will have a much harder time taking advantage of stolen credentials through account takeover and automated fraud.
New Passwords and Using Blacklists
Revision 3 of the NIST password guidelines overview – Digital identity guidelines – has dramatically updated recommendations on how to use passwords properly:
The main tenets are:
- Don’t rely on passwords alone. Use multi-factor authentication steps to verify the user is who they claim to be.
- Drop the complexity requirements, they make passwords hard to remember and aren’t as effective as once thought.
- Allow all different types of characters.
- End the upper limit on size. Length can be an important key to avoid theft.
- Rotate when something seems suspect. Don’t rotate because of an arbitrary timeout, like every six months.
- Disallow common passwords.
- Check new passwords against a blacklist of stolen passwords
The most important step is to check new passwords against a blacklist. These cover a range of passwords, including those known to have been already compromised, and those used in any major presentation. Checking against a blacklist is new territory—a lot of organizations don’t even know where to start.
Creating a Blacklist
An ideal blacklist should have all stolen passwords—not just the ones discovered on the dark web. Unfortunately creating a list of all stolen passwords is difficult. Recently companies have been relying on lists of stolen credentials from the dark web, but these are often too little, too late as it’s not possible to know how long these stolen passwords have been in circulation. For example, Yahoo was breached in 2013, but didn’t realize until 2016. Due to the economics of attackers, there is almost always a big lag between when data is breached and when it’s exploited.
Blackfish and the Breach Corpus
At Shape we created Blackfish to proactively invalidate user and employee credentials as soon as they are compromised from a data breach. It notifies organizations in near real-time, even before the breach is reported or discovered. How does it do this?
Blackfish technology is built upon the Shape Security global customer network which includes many of the largest companies in the industries most targeted by cybercriminals including banking, retail, airlines, hotels and government agencies. By protecting the highest profile target companies, the Blackfish network sees attacks using stolen credentials first, and is able to invalidate the credentials early in the fraud kill chain. This provides a breakthrough solution in solving the zero-day vulnerability gap between the time a breach occurs and its discovery.
Using machine learning, as soon as a credential is identified as compromised on one site, Blackfish instantly and autonomously protects all other customers in its collective defense network. As a result, Blackfish is the most comprehensive blacklist in the industry today.
Don’t Rely on Dark Web Research
Dark web research provides too little information, too late. Today major online organizations can take a much more proactive approach to credential stuffing. By using Blackfish businesses can immediately defend themselves from attack while reducing the operational risk to the organization. Over time these stolen credentials become less valuable to attackers because they just don’t work, and in turn credential stuffing attacks and fraud are reduced.