The Sky is No Longer the Limit: Thoughts from the Cloud

Kevin Nikkhoo

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Lessons Learned from LinkedIn

Passwords are the weakest link in your IT security perimeter

Users are making it too easy for hackers.

If we take a closer look at the 6.5 million hashed LinkedIn passwords that leaked we find a large swath of the user population are ignoring warnings of overly simplistic and obvious passwords. Would you believe the most common word or phrase found in a 160K sampling of the list was “link”? And would you further shake your head in disbelief that “1234” and “12345” followed close behind. Rounding out the top 10 were “work,” “god,” “job,” “angel,” “the,” “ilove,” and “sex.”

More so than Facebook, LinkedIn is the social media of choice for business. So it is likely to be used by the users in your enterprise as part of their SaaS profile. This makes their problem, your problem. If we learn anything from this debacle, it is that password management should be a priority for any organization that allows its users unfettered access to password-protected public sites.

What people need to understand is that even with trusted sites such as LinkedIn there is still a possibility for massive compromise. The bigger the site, the more personal information is leaked.

As a security or IT professional, you are already well aware how fast a hacker can crack a simple 5 character code. The answer is within 45 seconds, especially if users help them by choosing “password” or their birthday as the entry. I am not spending any further time lecturing on password management strategies. However, with that said it's important to note that even the strongest of passwords provided little defense against the LinkedIn hack. Bad guys stole password files directly from the companies involved, so even "%R7^Tgh1" was compromised.

If you check an earlier blog, ****** is your first defense, I offer some of password management strategies. But beyond enforcing protocols of how often passwords should change, randomizing characters and outlawing phrases and personal identifiers, I think the LinkedIn breach is a good reminder that updated authentication techniques need to be considered.

Password management, especially in larger organizations can be a nightmare. Dozens of websites and applications per person can be overwhelming. This could be a full time job. However the integrated automations managed from the cloud provide a safe, cost-effective and secure option that offers as much control as any on premise or home developed solution. If your department is like most that I’ve come across, you just don’t have the bandwidth or the additional budget to launch a full scale password crusade.

Regardless, companies must explore more sophisticated ways to authenticate users or the lessons from LinkedIn will never be fully learned. This can be done by looking to the cloud. Such solutions as single sign on help credential and authorize users by providing access to applications and approved sites.  Besides the obvious cost benefits, what the security-as-a-service does is helps centrally manage the process by automating several aspects and promoting self-service for users. Combined with SSO, you have taken strides to protect your intellectual property.

In this configuration, (public, private or hybrid clouds), there is only one password to remember that creates access to an entire (role-based credentialing) section of applications and websites. It cuts down on help desk calls (according to Gartner, passwords retrieval and resets account for 25% of all calls and costs upward of $50 per incident) and most important, provides the necessary control to better protect the enterprise. And by combining password policies and synchronization, passwords can be managed in a consistent way across systems within the enterprise. I realize part of the appeal is making it easier for the end user. Users won’t embrace policies and best practices unless they are easy to adopt and don’t interrupt their daily workflow.

LinkedIn is another warning that passwords are one of the weakest links in the security initiative and the faster you take control of those aspects that potentially affect your network, the faster you’ll sleep better at night.

Kevin Nikkhoo
PW: **********

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.