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Perimeter

6/10/2009
02:55 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Cost Analysis Of Multifactor Authentication

A recent article on integrating the YubiKey, a USB token that can provide one-time passwords (OTP), and WordPress reminded me of how few people I know actually use multi-factor authentication to secure their resources. Instead, they rely on the passwords for users to authenticate to Websites and VPNs with nothing in between them and an attacker who might steal that password. The insecurity of passwords is a topic that's b

A recent article on integrating the YubiKey, a USB token that can provide one-time passwords (OTP), and WordPress reminded me of how few people I know actually use multi-factor authentication to secure their resources. Instead, they rely on the passwords for users to authenticate to Websites and VPNs with nothing in between them and an attacker who might steal that password. The insecurity of passwords is a topic that's been beaten to death time and time again. So why is it that we haven't moved on?The usual suspect in preventing adoption of multi-factor authentication is cost. Another is that implementation is difficult. Either way, the hurdles can be great. But what is the cost of stolen credentials? I know what you're thinking. "It depends," right? If the username belonged to the mail clerk, the attacker might be able to send some spam. What if it was the CFO's account that was compromised?

With that in mind, think about what would go into a proper risk analysis versus cost/benefit analysis of multi-factor authentication. Your risk analysis would look at the probability of threats stealing your credentials, and the impact a compromise would have. Now map out some scenarios with likely costs for handling breaches cause by stolen passwords. What's cheaper? The costs of implementing a multi-factor solution, or the cost of a breach?

It seems like a no-brainer to me since barriers to entry for multi-factor authentication aren't nearly as steep as they once were. The Yubikey is a great example. It is inexpensive, has numerous ways to integrate it into common environments, and whether you are using the OTP or static password functionality, requiring it along with a user name and password becomes a huge hurdle for an attacker to overcome.

That reminds me...I need to change a few passwords that are about to expire. When will the madness end?

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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