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Are US & UK Firms Keeping Up With 'Best Practice' Password Management?

Companies think that they are much safer than their actual password practices would suggest.

Larry Loeb

June 14, 2019

3 Min Read

OneLogin, a password management tool vendor, did some research using Arlington Research into -- what else? -- password management. They surveyed 600 IT professionals in the US and the UK in order to gauge how companies are protecting passwords by means of tools, guidelines and practices in their report, Password Practices 2019.

Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 55+. In the UK, 69% were male, 31% female. In the US, 53.3% were male, 45.7% female. In both countries, 70% or more of respondents were the sole or main decision maker with regards to password policy. The remainder of those surveyed were influencers in password policy decisions.

Key findings of the report showed that companies think that they are dramatically safer than their actual password practices would suggest. In fact, the report says that, "well over 90% of companies in both the US and UK feel their current password protection measures and guidelines provide adequate protection for their business."

By and large companies were found to require individual passwords for most applications, resulting in too many passwords for users to remember. This can cause unneeded password reset activity.

Almost a third of UK companies and 41% of US companies had up to 25 apps that required individual passwords. Over a third (36.7%) of US companies and 60% of UK companies have between 26 and 100 apps that required individual passwords.

Companies will also spend "too much time resetting passwords that users have forgotten" -- or, in many cases, don't know how much time they are spending on password resets.

The report revealed businesses in the UK lose an average of two-and-a-half months per year in time that is spent dealing with the effects of poor password management.

This shows companies have failed to adopt the "best practices" for authentication, and are relying solely on complex passwords without addressing the newer NIST guidelines that apply. The guidelines have changed focus to reduce over-reliance on password length, use of special characters and password rotation. Microsoft has recently issued guidance that agrees with NIST and stops a system from forcing password resets after some mandatory time has passed. Yet only a third of companies in either country has adopted the technique of checking passwords against a list of commonly known passwords. Even fewer are checking them against rainbow tables (14.7% in the US; 18.7% in UK) or complexity algorithms (23.9% in the US; 22.4% in the UK).

Two of the most accepted tools for password security was shown by the research to remain underused. One of these tools, Single Sign-on (SSO), is still used by less than 50% of companies in the US and the UK.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) goes unused by a third of companies in either the UK and by less than half of US respondents. The results demonstrate that organizations have failed to take the most important NIST-recommended steps of eliminating passwords and adding additional authentication factors. This security failure opens them up to forms of risk that they otherwise would be protected against.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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