United States: The Year Of The P@Ssw0rds!

Last Updated: June 15 2017
Article by Peter Fortunato

Among the many surprises noted in the Verizon's Data Breach Investigations Report for 2017, we note that password compromises have now overtaken personal data breaches in the frequency of data compromise. Over 1 billion passwords were compromised in 2016, adding to the extensive list previously compromised and posted online. Yet many of us carry on as usual, keeping only simple usernames and passwords between the world and our sensitive data. With numerous accounts to remember on the many online applications we access each day for both work and at home, there is a high probability of reusing the same username/password combination on different websites, compounding the concentration risk if our password is compromised.

How 'complex' is this problem?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of 'complex' passwords which require at least eight characters and a combination of uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols, and which must be changed at some defined interval. However, consider that the intent of this control can be quite easily defeated through a simple algorithm: use the season with a capital letter, the current year, and a punctuation symbol. (If a user is required to change a password every 90 days they could use "Winter2017!," then "Spring2017!," and so on to devise a complex password that is easily remembered). (NOTE: Don't try this.) Unfortunately, it is very likely someone within your organization is using this password scheme right now and putting your information security at risk. Since operating systems are not yet sophisticated enough to check passwords for dictionary words, a commercial password testing solution is needed to identify users with easily derived passwords and address this vulnerability. This is of heightened importance when entities are relying on single-factor authentication to control remote access to email or VPN connections.

Password recommendation changes on the horizon

In a related occurrence, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) has presented a draft update to its password recommendations. This revision to prior guidance recognizes that making password creation more difficult on end users does not always make password controls more difficult for the hacker. NIST is proposing that users not be forced to change passwords unless the password has likely been compromised; the guidance discourages the practice of password hints to prompt users to remember a previously-set password, and does away with the password composition rules (i.e. complex password requirements).

However, NIST counters with changes to help make passwords much harder to crack: using "memorized secrets" more akin to a sentence than a word which consists of at least 8 characters allows for much longer, sentence-like pass phrases, and disallowing the use of words found in the dictionary or common passwords. You can also expect the PINs for tablets and phones to increase from 4 to 6 random digits based on dramatic increases in PIN strength by adding two numbers. The new guidance would also prohibit use of password hints as these greatly weaken authentication protocols and can often be deduced or found through searching online.

What you should do

Fostering good security practices at work and home requires the separation of work and personal login credentials; specifically, never reusing passwords across the two domains. Encourage the use of multi-factor authentication for personal email and social media accounts to ensure that compromised credentials do not expose data to unauthorized users; the same recommendation holds true for remote access at work.

Reused usernames and passwords become a single point of failure should any part of your online presence become known to others. This is true for the one-time logins we create for webinars, but becomes more significant with our email and social media accounts. Online logins, such as for banking, are best if they do not use your email address (which is easily found online), and a different password should be use for each institution. Consider a separate email account dedicated for password resets, featuring a longer, more challenging password with multi-factor authentication.

Following the above guidance leads us back to the fundamental question of how to manage all these login accounts in the first place. Numerous password repository solutions exist, ranging from free to commercial-grade. Some are even included with some popular antivirus products. While there are risks to storing everything in one repository, these risks can be mitigated if properly secured with multi-factor authentication. For extra security, sensitive passwords in password repository may have missing or obscured components such that a mnemonic formula is required to complete the secret. Strategically employing such a tool serves to reduce the risk that an online compromise will affect every aspect of your Internet accessible data,  mitigating concentration risk, enabling users to avoid the reuse of passwords across numerous and perhaps tenuously secured websites.


Recuperating from the loss of a credit card is a mere inconvenience, but the damage from a credential compromise can be far worse. Breaches may go undetected for long periods of time, and damage from ex-filtrated information is neither easy to trace, nor can it be undone. When unauthorized individuals are trying to use the simplest means to access the information, the first line of defense is equally simple: shore up passwords. A combination of end user education, multi-factor authentication for externally accessible data, better password management, and longer password secrets all contribute to maintaining secure access to your organization's online resources.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions