What security lessons can be learned from LinkedIn?

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 swathe 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 security-as-a-service (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 organisation 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 five 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 defence against the LinkedIn hack. Bad guys stole password files directly from the companies involved, so even “%R7^Tgh1″ was compromised.

But beyond enforcing protocols of how often passwords should change, randomising 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 organisations, 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 (SSO) help credential and authorise users by providing access to applications and approved sites.

And I know of one organisation that combines the power of password management in the bundle for no extra cost. Besides the obvious cost benefits, what the SaaS 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 synchronisation, passwords can be managed in a consistent way across systems within the enterprise.

I realise part of the appeal is making it easier for the end user, but 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 will sleep better at night.

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