Password security, why is it such a big deal?

 18 Oct 2006 04:23:04 pm

Some time back I wrote an internal article on password security for our users and figured the information would be worthwhile to post here. The article is intended for the end user. Yes I’m sure 90% of you who actually read this know most of it, but I figured it would be worthwhile if you were looking for some information to give the users you support some suggestions.

Besides, as most of us who’ve done work in security know weak passwords trunk strong security so it’s good to revisit this topic periodically.

I thought about editing the article and making it more applicable for a public blog but after giving it some thought (and looking at my schedule the next week+) I’m thinking it would be easier to just post it as is and pull out any internal information.

Quote :
This year you’ll see a big push from us IT folks to have everyone do some firming up on password security. It’s a multi-part push focusing on several aspects; our net desire is to help increase our overall security and make your life easier (yes, you read that right).

Username plus password equals you.
From a technology perspective the way that we identify you as you is by a unique combination of your username and your password. Any actions carried out by your network account is tantamount to you carrying out the action; therefore there are a couple of simple steps that are essential for every employee to follow:
1. Do not share your username and password with anyone (up to and including MIS).
2. When you are logged into a computer or any of our network services do not let anyone use the computer.
3. If you are not at the computer log off or lock it.

Okay, I promise not to give out my password to anyone and I will not let anyone use my account. I’m safe now right?
Committing to these things are a fantastic start and before I go any further I want to congratulate you for taking this to heart. Really, pat yourself on the back before you read further.

Okay now that we’ve covered the basics in comes the “bad guy”; this bad guy has the intention of doing damage to company systems and/or soiling your good name by doing something bad while pretending to be you (i.e. surfing for porn).

The bad guy performs a brute force crack against your password (that’s computer speak for having a program make thousands of guesses a second trying to figure out what your password is). If your password is weak he’s able to gain access to your account within minutes. This isn’t a worse-case scenario; it’s something that happens very frequently.

But you said “weak password”, so there is such a thing as a “strong password”?
Absolutely. Passwords can be created so that they are very hard to break by following some simple rules:
1. Use longer passwords
2. Use a mixture of character types (upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation)

In comes the challenge.
As passwords get longer and more complicated they get harder to remember. So how do you make passwords that are both strong as well as easy to remember? Passphrases!

Passphrases are passwords that contain information and are formatted in a way that are easy for you to remember. For example, consider the password "". This password utilizes upper and lower-case letters, two numbers, and two symbols. The password is 20 characters long and can be memorized with very little effort; perhaps even by the time you finish this article. Moreover, this password can be typed very fast. The portion "Makeit20" alternates between left and right-handed keys on the keyboard, improving speed, decreasing typos, and decreasing the chances of someone being able to discover your password by watching you.

What are some strategies for choosing a good password/passphrase?

Use lines from a childhood verse:
Verse Line: Yankee Doodle went to town
Password: YankDwto#t0wn

Expressions inspired by the name of a city:
City Expression: I love Paris in the springtime
Password: IL0vepint*ST

City Expression: Chicago is my kind of town
Password: Cim_Y_K0t

Foods disliked during childhood:
Food: rice and raisin pudding
Password: ricNr4iPudng

Food: boiled broccoli
Password: bo1%Brocc

Transformation techniques:
Technique: Transliteration
Illustrative Expression: photographic
Password: foTOgrafik

Technique: Interweaving of characters in successive words
Illustrative Expression: iron horse
Password: 1hrOrnSe!

Technique: Interweaving of characters in successive words
Illustrative Expression: file drawer
Password: FdirL4wer

Technique: Substitution of synonyms
Illustrative Expression: coffee break
Password: jaVa*rest

Technique: Substitution of antonyms
Illustrative Expression: stoplight
Password: starTdark

Note: Obviously, you shouldn't use any of the passwords used as examples in this article. Treat these examples as guidelines only.

But I don’t have anything important on the computers; so this doesn’t matter for me right?
Unfortunately in the modern age of computers nobody is an island. With nearly all computer equipment interconnected on a massive world-wide network (a.k.a. “The Internet”) problems on one machine can create problems for others, or worse spread the problem.

You’ve probably seen reports in the news recently of Viruses spreading over the internet. This type of thing is quite commonplace and will only continue to be that way until everyone realizes that security does matter for them.

But I digress, back to the topic at hand…

So you said you were going to make things easier for us, how?
One of the biggest pain points is that passwords have to be constantly changed; a big part of the reason that passwords need to be changed frequently is because of how easy it is to break “poor quality” passwords.

Our plan moving forward is to do a couple of things. First increase password security company-wide through the use of education (like you reading this article) as well as by technical means (forcing you to use stronger passwords by requiring them to be longer) and finally when the password security has been raised reducing the frequency by which passwords must be changed.

In addition we are considering/evaluating technologies that will allow us to integrate usernames/passwords between our systems so that you have less to remember (i.e. using the same username/password for our business system as you do on the network).

Thanks to for some of the great examples.

Erik Szewczyk

Posted By : Erik | Category: General | Comments [[123]] | Trackbacks [0]

  How to enable Vista’s Network Map for Domain Members

 17 Oct 2006 03:24:13 am

For those of you who have had a chance to play with Microsoft’s Windows Vista there is a handy new feature called the “Network Map”. Vista uses the Link Layer Topology Discovery protocol (LLTP), a layer 2 protocol that gathers information about neighboring devices to create (among other things) a top-down map of your network segment.

However this feature is disabled by default on domain member machines, reason being that if you had it enabled in the enterprise on every machine it could pose a security risk (and lets just face it, this isn’t exactly something I want enabled across the enterprise). However for your IT department or in smaller domains you may want to enable this feature. To do so you’ll need to make some quick group policy changes.

If you haven’t already create a GPO and link it to the OU that computer account(s) reside in. Click on “start” and in the search box (or a run dialog) type “MMC”. Click on “File” and “Add/Remove Snap-in…” and add the “Group Policy Management” snap-in to your console. Drill-down and edit the policy you wish to change and browse to Computer Configuration>Administrative Templates>Network>Link-Layer Topology Discovery. Here you will notice 2 policies, “Turn on Mapper I/O (LLTDIO) driver” and “Turn on Responder (RSPNDR) driver”. If you enable the mapper driver it will allow the client(s) to connect out over the network and look for other devices, if you enable the responder it will allow other machines to locate these client(s).

I do not recommend enabling functionality while on public networks.

Erik Szewczyk

Posted By : Erik | Category: Active Directory | Comments [[72]] | Trackbacks [0]

  Cisco PIX 7.x MPF configuration for Exchange ActiveSync

 17 Oct 2006 02:09:27 am

We recently (finally) upgraded our Microsoft Exchange server to SP2, a nice feature that adds for us WM5 folks is the Exchange Server ActiveSync Push capabilities. Basically our device sends a long lived https query to the server which waits until something new shows up (or the timeout period expires) before sending a response.

However we quickly discovered that we were not getting “pushed” the mail, but we were getting a long string of Event 3033 Application Log errors on the Exchange server (The average of the most recent [200] heartbeat intervals used by clients is less than or equal to [540].)

Our firewall configuration is a little atypical in that we are basically using 2 firewalls. A Cisco PIX (515e) directly connected with an ISA server sitting on the DMZ. Yes I realize that it’s a bit redundant to have a firewall behind the firewall, it’s this way because when we originally deployed ISA we weren’t quite comfortable yet with sticking a Windows server directly on the internet (if we were to do it again I’d stick it on the outside). Needless to say things have yet to change and for lack of a compelling reason to do so they will probably remain the same for some time to come.

Now Cisco PIXes are pretty much a staple when it comes to corporate firewalls and the default timeout for TCP connections is 60 minutes, in addition we have plenty of customers running them with Exchange and were not having issues on their end so you can imagine our confusion. I scrubbed through the ISA configuration and made sure the HTTPS timeouts were at least 45 minutes (2700 seconds), the default maximum heartbeat interval for Exchange, but they were still failing.

Fortunately one of our other engineers who is good with PIXes came up with a better way of doing it using the Modular Policy Framework (MPF), keep in mind that this only works under 7.x:

class-map HTTPS
match port tcp eq https
class-map inspection_default
match default-inspection-traffic
policy-map type inspect dns migrated_dns_map_2
message-length maximum 512
policy-map global_policy
class inspection_default
inspect dns migrated_dns_map_2
inspect ftp
inspect h323 h225
inspect h323 ras
inspect netbios
inspect pptp
inspect rsh
inspect rtsp
inspect skinny
inspect sqlnet
inspect sunrpc
inspect xdmcp
inspect icmp error
inspect icmp
class HTTPS
set connection timeout tcp 0:45:00

Basically, we create a new class map for HTTPS traffic, then apply it to our policy map (“class HTTPS”) and set the timeout option to 45 minutes. Since we were unable to find a config out there (Google, etc.) relating to HTTPS timeouts with MPF I wanted to make sure to post for those of you running into similar issues.

As I mentioned we do have a lot of other clients with PIXes in front of their Exchange servers, however none with ISA on the DMZ so my hunch is that our issue may be related with this configuration. I’d love if someone else with a similar configuration could confirm/deny my theory.

Erik Szewczyk

Posted By : Erik | Category: Exchange | Comments [[142]] | Trackbacks [0]

  Welcome and all that warm fuzzy stuff

 16 Oct 2006 10:28:11 pm

First blog post and going to make it quick. I’ve been saying for years that I need to put up a blog of the bizarre configurations I run into out there and how to address the problems, etc.

So here you have it, a real blog for me to post this stuff (assuming I actually take the time to post).

Hope you find something useful here.

Erik Szewczyk

Posted By : Erik | Category: General | Comments [[125]] | Trackbacks [0]

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