Nate Lawson wrote:
At 11:36 AM 9/10/2002 -0500, L. Adrian Griffis wrote: > I am aware of a company that has instituted a policy that limits a> specific character in people's passwords to being a numeric character.
This policy, as described, does seem to be a very bad idea. I can't tell whether it is because the policy has not been faithfully described.
This is a bad idea. Ross Anderson's group did a good study on different password selection approaches: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/ftp/users/rja14/tr500.pdf
Interesting paper. Good to see some solid empirical study in this critical area. Some commentary on the conclusions:
1. The first folk belief is that users have difficulty remembering random passwords. This belief is confirmed. 2. The second folk belief is that passwords based on mnemonic phrases are harder for an attacker to guess than naively selected passwords. This belief is confirmed. 3. The third folk belief is that random passwords are better than those based on mnemonic phrases. However, each appeared to be just as strong as the other. So this belief is debunked. 4. The fourth folk belief is that passwords based on mnemonic phrases are harder to remember than naively selected passwords. However, each ap- peared to be just as easy to remember as the other. So this belief is de- bunked. 5. The fifth folk belief is that by educating users to use random passwords or mnemonic passwords, we can gain a significant improvement in security. However, both random passwords and mnemonic passwords su ered from a non-compliance rate of about 10% (including both too-short passwords and passwords not chosen according to the instructions). While this is better than the 35% or so of users who choose bad passwords with only cursory instruction, it is not really a huge improvement. The attacker may have to work three times harder, but in the absence of password policy enforcement mechanisms there seems no way to make the attacker work a thousand times harder. In fact, our experimental group may be about the most compliant a systems administrator can expect to get. So this belief appears to be de- bunked.I like most of these conclusions. Confirming most of the common folk beliefs is good. #5 is particularly significant: password policy enforcement is critical.
The only one I have trouble with is #3: the study found passphrase passwords to be just as strong as random pass phrases. I submit that this conclusion is primarily a function of the strength of the cracking software employed, and will change. It is unclear whether the study used a standard password cracker (Crack, John the Ripper, etc.) or rolled their own. But in any case, if we convince all users to use pass phrases, then crack software will evolve to attempt to crack pass phrases. How hard would it be to encode the first letter of the popular quotations from Bartlett's Quotations into a crack dictionary?
Disclaimer: none the less, I believe that pass phrases is the most cost-effective form of password discipline. Random is just too hard for most humans to remember.
Crispin -- Crispin Cowan, Ph.D. Chief Scientist, WireX http://wirex.com/~crispin/ Security Hardened Linux Distribution: http://immunix.org Available for purchase: http://wirex.com/Products/Immunix/purchase.html
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