Usernames and Passwords: An Illusion of Security 

Many organizations, especially small businesses, rely on username and password protocol as their primary cybersecurity protection method. They assume that requiring employees to use strong passwords, and then requiring regular changes to those passwords, is an adequate approach to cyberattack prevention. On the contrary: Relying primarily on passwords is not as secure as most of us are led to believe.

The Verizon 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed two of the major findings that bear directly on this issue. Of the data breaches that were analyzed:

  • 75 percent were perpetrated by outsiders (with the exception of healthcare, where 68 percent were internal)
  • 81 percent of hacking-related breaches (50 percent of all breaches) leveraged weak or stolen passwords

What does this say about relying on usernames and passwords to secure your network – and why are strong passwords not a solid cybersecurity strategy?

Most people don’t want to remember numerous usernames and passwords for multiple accounts and programs, and many don’t feel confident in their ability to accurately recall that information. More so, they dislike having to regularly change passwords on individual accounts, and being forced to forget previous passwords in exchange for new ones. To deal with this frustration, they tend to do one of two things (or both):

  • Re-use the same usernames and passwords across multiple accounts
  • Write down their usernames and passwords, and store them in their workspace (usually in a place that is easy to find, often on their desk or in a top drawer)

The problems with these widespread tendencies are simple:

  • Remember, 81 percent of all hacking-related breaches leveraged weak or stolen
  • Repeated passwords used on multiple sites increase the risk of successful breaches on internal company sites. If passwords on personal accounts (online shopping, banking, personal email, social media, etc.) match passwords on company sites (employee login, company email, etc.), hackers can apply those identical passwords to other accounts with the same or similar usernames – and many people use the same username format across multiple accounts (e.g., John_Doe, or John.Doe).
  • This means that any password, no matter how strong it is, is vulnerable the more often it is used with multiple accounts, especially when it is associated with the same (or similar) username.
  • If 75 percent of breaches were perpetrated by outsiders, this means that 25 percent were committed by insiders. Many internal attacks don’t have to target one particular employee’s access; in many cases, accessing one member of a team or department (or even the entire company) is all that is required. Thus, having an employee record usernames and passwords, and store them in an obvious place, makes internal attacks much easier and more likely.

Having a system of employee usernames and passwords is not enough. Passwords, to be at all effective, need to be randomly generated strings of characters, changed frequently, and accompanied by two-factor authentication and protected by additional layers of security, backup and recovery, and monitoring.

thinkCSC is here to help ensure your cybersecurity systems are strong and vibrant, to assist you in your preparation for and response to cyberattacks. Together, we can avoid the mistakes that are common among so many businesses and organizations, in the end becoming as secure as possible in today’s technological world.

While thinkCSC believes that employees will always be the first line of defense against ransomware attacks, the only real solution is for leaders of all –organizations – businesses of all sizes, government entities, schools, hospitals, and –others – to invest in stronger IT security that includes offsite backup and recovery and managed security. These protections, combined with ongoing staff training, strict security policies, and constant vigilance, are an absolute necessity in today’s cyber-environment.

For new customers interested in information on obtaining our services, please contact us at sales@thinkcsc.com