Feeds

The alternatives to password protection

Securing the desktop

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Workshop In a world where it is possible to create credential-stealing malware and where users are supposed happy to trade passwords for a bar of chocolate in a railway station survey, we ask the question: is the era of password authentication coming to a close?

From the first time systems administrators looked to restrict access to applications, the “password” has been the default authentication mechanism. As we all know, this is far from foolproof.

Many companies use a common “shared secret” allowing multiple users to access a single account. Short passwords based on easily guessed names, which sometimes appear to be all that most users can memorise, are easily cracked.

Also it is fairly common for users to employ the ‘ultra-secure’ yellow sticky note containing log-in credentials where administrators weed out weak passwords by insisting on minimum lengths, character requirements and password lifetimes.

A case can be made that long passwords that are regularly changed lead to more security problems than a reasonable password that is kept confidential.

So what are the alternatives when protecting desktops and laptops?

It is now common to include fingerprint scanners with business laptops, and even some desktops. This provides users with a supplement to or an alternative to traditional password authentication systems.

Fingerprint recognition is now often found even on machines targeting the consumer market. Several vendors also include the ability to use smartcard authentication mechanisms.

Given that alternatives to password authentication on PCs are widely available in large parts of the installed base, why is it that the active use of any additional form of authentication appears to be sporadic?

One reason could well be that few enterprise systems management tools are easily able to exploit such technologies in the central authentication repositories, although this is changing.

A more likely rationale is that relatively few organisations consider the security of their desktop and laptop machines needs to be, or what form it should take.

In companies where security is essential, it is becoming more common, at least for some categories of users, to employ some form of additional authentication beyond the password, quite often by using a one-time-password system, such as a key-fob display.

This approach is valid, but it gives cause to ponder why such systems are not more widely deployed, especially as recognition grows concerning the requirement to protect the sensitive data commonly held on systems.

Is this simply down to the fact that some security companies have done a good job marketing one-time password devices to enterprise security teams who control the authentication requirements for certain classes of user? Have the PC and laptop vendors not promoted built-in smart card readers or biometric systems to add security options for the general user population?

Another factor is that few users are happy to employ additional authentication protocols, as many perceive these to add complexity to their log-on processes.

Research we have carried out over the years highlights that few people outside of IT and compliance / auditor functions understand the business requirements to secure their systems robustly.

Educating all users on the importance of IT security, and the steps they should adopt in their daily use of computers, has clear benefits by raising understanding, which ultimately helps improve all aspects of data security.

It remains to be seen if organisations will ramp up PC security authentication in response to the increasing raft of privacy regulations and other compliance and governance requirements will force.

This may well prove to be the trigger for adoption of secondary authentication mechanisms; and anyone that does not take steps may be placing the organisation at risk. Should they do so, we are likely to see a rapid take up of secondary authentication put in place alongside more robust password requirements.

As ever, we are keen to hear how you handle these matters, the solutions you have adopted and the challenges you have had to overcome.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Xperia Z3: Crikey, Sony – ANOTHER flagship phondleslab?
The Fourth Amendment... and it IS better
Don't wait for that big iPad, order a NEXUS 9 instead, industry little bird says
Google said to debut next big slab, Android L ahead of Apple event
Microsoft to enter the STRUGGLE of the HUMAN WRIST
It's not just a thumb war, it's total digit war
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
A drone of one's own: Reg buyers' guide for UAV fanciers
Hardware: Check. Software: Huh? Licence: Licence...?
The Apple launch AS IT HAPPENED: Totally SERIOUS coverage, not for haters
Fandroids, Windows Phone fringe-oids – you wouldn't understand
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.