Passwords: Historically Bad But Still In Use
How and when did passwords get so vulnerable? Back in 1961, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). To make sure everyone had an equal chance to use the computer, MIT required all students to log in with a secure password. Soon enough, students figured out that they could hack the system, print out the passwords, and hog more computer time.
Despite this, and the fact that there are much more secure alternatives, usernames and passwords remain the most common form of user authentication. The general rule of thumb is that a password should be something only you know while being difficult for anyone else to guess. And while using passwords is better than having no protection at all, they’re not foolproof. Here’s why:
- Humans have lousy memories. A recent report looked at over 1.4 billion stolen passwords and found that most were embarrassingly simple. Among the worst are “111111,” “123456,” “123456789,” “qwerty,” and “password.” While these are easy to remember, any decent hacker could crack these simple passwords in no time.
- Too many accounts: As users get more comfortable with doing everything online, they open more and more accounts. This eventually creates too many passwords to remember and paves the way for a dangerous habit: password recycling. Here’s why hackers love this trend: it takes just seconds for hacking software to test thousands of stolen sign-in credentials against popular online banks and shopping sites. If a username and password pair is recycled, it’s extremely likely it’ll unlock plenty of other lucrative accounts.
- Security fatigue sets in: To protect themselves, some consumers try to make it harder for attackers by creating more complex passwords and passphrases. But with so many data breaches flooding the dark web with user information, many just give up and fall back to using weak passwords across multiple accounts.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) To The Rescue
2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information. This second factor could come from one of the following categories:
- Something you know: This could be a personal identification number (PIN), a password, answers to “secret questions” or a specific keystroke pattern
- Something you have: Typically, a user would have something in their possession, like a credit card, a smartphone, or a small hardware token
- Something you are: This category is a little more advanced, and might include biometric pattern of a fingerprint, an iris scan, or a voice print
With 2FA, a potential compromise of just one of these factors won’t unlock the account. So, even if your password is stolen or your phone is lost, the chances of a someone else having your second-factor information is highly unlikely. Looking at it from another angle, if a consumer uses 2FA correctly, websites and apps can be more confident of the user’s identity, and unlock the account.
Learn how to enable 2FA on your favorite sites by clicking on this link: