Milk still expires, but now — mercifully– your passwords won’t

By Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Who hasn’t been interrupted during some important task by a strictly-imposed network requirement to “update” a password?  And who hasn’t solved this modern annoyance by some ridiculous, unsafe naming convention like “CorpPassword1…CorpPassword2…CorpPassword3” and so on. People already have 150 or so passwords they must remember. Forced expiration made this already untenable situation even worse — 150 *new* passwords every month or so?

Those days are, thankfully, coming to a close. Last year, NIST revised its passwords, urging companies to abandon forced expirations. And recently, Microsoft announced it would remove the requirement from Windows 10 standards.

This will finally start a movement to drop forced password updates.

In its announcement, Microsoft was both logical and forceful in its argument.

“Periodic password expiration is an ancient and obsolete mitigation of very low value,” it said. “When humans are forced to change their passwords, too often they’ll make a small and predictable alteration to their existing passwords, and/or forget their new passwords.”

Either a password is compromised, so it should be changed now — why wait 30 or 60 days? — and if it’s not compromised,  why create the extra hassle?

More from MS:

If it’s a given that a password is likely to be stolen, how many days is an acceptable length of time to continue to allow the thief to use that stolen password? The Windows default is 42 days. Doesn’t that seem like a ridiculously long time? Well, it is, and yet our current baseline says 60 days – and used to say 90 days – because forcing frequent expiration introduces its own problems. And if it’s not a given that passwords will be stolen, you acquire those problems for no benefit. Further, if your users are the kind who are willing to answer surveys in the parking lot that exchange a candy bar for their passwords, no password expiration policy will help you.

Gartner cybersecurity analyst Avivah Litan called the move a “most welcome step.”

“Finally a big tech company (that manages much of our daily authentication) is using independent reasoned thinking rather than going along with the crowd mentality when the crowd’s less secure password management practices are – however counterintuitive – less secure,” she wrote on her blog. 

What should companies be doing about passwords instead? Litan hopes this step signals the beginning of the end of traditional passwords.  Meanwhile, Microsoft hints at what better security looks like:

“What should the recommended expiration period be? If an organization has successfully implemented banned-password lists, multi-factor authentication, detection of password-guessing attacks, and detection of anomalous logon attempts, do they need any periodic password expiration? And if they haven’t implemented modern mitigations, how much protection will they really gain from password expiration?”

Coincidentally, this week’s “So, Bob” podcast deals with password managers.  Listen on iTunes,on Stitcher or click play below if a play button appears for you.

 

About Bob Sullivan 1340 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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