Ok so we constantly tell people not to reuse passwords across sites, because if they are stored in plain text (and leaked) those naughty hackers now have your e-mail address AND your password and can wreak havoc on your life.
Which is pretty much true, but Microsoft disagrees and there is some validity to what they say, if you MUST re-use passwords (which you shouldn’t) – do so only on low risk sites (anything without payment details really).
Keep the good passwords for the important sites (like online banking).
As for me, I say use a bloody password manager, generate different passwords for every site and make them all strong! A good online password manager is free, and even though some of them appear to not be totally secure (as we wrote a few days ago) – they are certainly better than not using one.
Microsoft has rammed a research rod into the security spokes of the internet by advocating for password reuse in a paper that thoroughly derails the credentials best practise wagon.
Password reuse has become a pariah in internet security circles in recent years following a barrage of breaches that prompted pleas from hacked businesses and media outlets to stop repeating access codes across web sites.
The recommendations appeared logical; hackers with email addresses and passwords in hand could test those credentials against other websites to gain easy illegal access.
Now Redmond researchers Dinei Florencio and Cormac Herley, together with Paul C. van Oorschot of Carleton University, Canada, have shot holes through the security dogma in a paper Password portfolios and the Finite-Effort User: Sustainably Managing Large Numbers of Accounts (PDF).
The trio argue that password reuse on low risk websites is necessary in order for users to be able to remember unique and high entropy codes chosen for important sites.
I’m not sure why we are arguing about this though, I honestly don’t even know any of my passwords any more (or try to remember then) as for one, I have over 100 and I don’t have to. I use a password manager (PassPack in my case).
I only need to remember 1 login/password combo and 1 really strong keyphrase (which even the experts agree, is way better than a contiguous password).
Users should therefore slap the same simple passwords across free websites that don’t hold important information and save the tough and unique ones for banking websites and other repositories of high-value information.
“The rapid decline of [password complexity as recall difficulty] increases suggests that, far from being unallowable, password re-use is a necessary and sensible tool in managing a portfolio,” the trio wrote.
“Re-use appears unavoidable if [complexity] must remain above some minimum and effort below some maximum.”
Password sets should be reused across groups of websites. Those sites holding little personal information could be placed in the users’ ‘go-ahead-and-hack-me’ bucket protected by codes like P@ssword1, while sites where pwnage would trigger fire and brimstone should be protected by complex and unique login credentials.
Hackable groups “should be very exposed” and “should have weak passwords”, the researchers said, because pushing users to light up even a small amount of grey matter “would be wasteful”.
The Redmond research realises the realities of userland security; People are bad at remembering passwords and seemingly worse at caring about the issue of security.
Research published in 2012 found the average Brit glued the same five passwords to their 26 online accounts while one in 25 used the same code for everything.
You can read the full paper here – Password portfolios and the Finite-Effort User: Sustainably Managing Large Numbers of Accounts [PDF]
The whole issue is kind of sad if you ask me.
It’ll be interesting to see if any kind of counter-studies are done on this, or anyone comes out with a rebuttal of any sort. It’s a little odd to release a research paper on something that’s basically an opinion though.
Source: The Register