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Personal Passwords Endanger Corporate Security

Personal Passwords Endanger Corporate Security

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Writing this blog with egg on my face, tail between my legs, or whatever your favorite expression is for highly chagrined. The Zappos breach made me do a formal evaluation of my personal password practices … which sadly to say are not consistent with what I preach as an information security practitioner. Worse – my “personal password policy” had put my employer at risk.

password-policy

On reading of the Zappos breach, I suspected I had a Zappos account that I had used to buy a “hard-to-find” pair of shoes on behalf of my wife … so I fired up my password manager and…. confirmed that to be the case. I was initially relieved when I realized that I had used a password that was unique to that purchase rather than a generic password that I occasionally re-use for low risk sites (e.g., a onetime purchase with no credit card retention). My self-satisfaction was shortly replaced with queasiness when I began to wonder; how lazy had I been over the years? What are the implications of a malicious individual getting hold of this generic password?

I exported my password manager data to an excel spreadsheet and began my analysis:

  • Over 400 passwords for various websites gathered over the last 10 years or so (eye-opening)
  • 35 Accounts shared the same generic passwords (concerning)
  • 11 Accounts used easily guessable variation of the generic password (even more concerning)

On deeper analysis it got more concerning. While most of the sites were “low risk” and personal in nature, (e.g., Opentable, MovieTickets, CaringBridge) I realized that I had used the same password for several corporate accounts that could have notably negative impacts if compromised (e.g., Twitter, Expedia, InfoSecIsland). While my mistake would have largely been limited to someone posting inappropriate content that would have had a negative public relations impact on Pivot Point Security, I began to wonder; what if it happened to our Book Keeper who has access to our online banking and accounting systems?

Needless to say, I’m in the process of cleaning up old passwords. More importantly I’m in the process of updating our corporate password policy to address this risk (e.g., Do not use the same password for Company accounts as non-company access such as personal ISP account, banking and utility or shopping accounts.). I’m still wrestling with ideas on how to monitor/validate compliance with this new addition to our Password Policy.

I’m open to suggestions …

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About the Author:

John Verry (CISA, 27001 Certified Lead Auditor, CCSE, CRISC) is Pivot Point's resident "Security Sherpa". He is lucky enough to spend most of his day helping clients develop a road map to address security, compliance, and attestation requirements.

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