UK spy agency GCHQ has released a new advice document for organisations, urging them to simplify their password policies and dispense with strength meters in order to combat password overload.
The agency’s cybersecurity director general, Ciaran Martin, admitted in a new report – Password Guidance: Simplifying Your Approach – that the government’s previous guidance had been wrong.
It used to be that CESG advised organizations to require more complex passwords from their users.
“The abundance of sites and services that require passwords means users have to follow an impossible set of password rules in order to ‘stay secure’. Worse still, the rules – even if followed – don't necessarily make your system more secure,” he argued.
“Complex passwords do not usually frustrate attackers, yet they make daily life much harder for users. They create cost, cause delays, and may force users to adopt workarounds or non-secure alternatives that increase risk.”
With that in mind, the new document says firms can combat password overload via several steps: the first being to only implement passwords when absolutely needed, and to use single-sign-on, password synchronization and other tools to reduce the burden on staff.
They should also provide a means to store passwords securely – whether physically or virtually, in a password manager or other system.
It adds that regular password changing is not effective, as compromised credentials are usually exploited immediately, so there should be no burden to change passwords unless a break-in is suspected.
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