Guide to Enterprise Password Management (NIST SP 800-118)
Author(s): Karen Scarfone, Murugiah Souppaya

Date: April 2009
Publication: NIST Special Publication 800-118 (Draft)
Publisher: NIST
Source 1: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-118/draft-sp800-118.pdf

Abstract or Summary:
This publication provides recommendations for password management, which is the process of defining, implementing, and maintaining password policies throughout an enterprise. Effective password management reduces the risk of compromise of password-based authentication systems. Organizations need to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of passwords so that all authorized users—and no unauthorized users—can use passwords successfully as needed. Integrity and availability should be ensured by typical data security controls, such as using access control lists to prevent attackers from overwriting passwords and having secured backups of password files. Ensuring the confidentiality of passwords is considerably more challenging and involves a number of security controls along with decisions involving the characteristics of the passwords themselves. For example, requiring that passwords be long and complex makes it less likely that attackers will guess or crack them, but it also makes the passwords harder for users to remember, and thus more likely to be stored insecurely. This increases the likelihood that users will store their passwords insecurely and expose them to attackers.

Organizations should be aware of the drawbacks of using password-based authentication. There are many types of threats against passwords, and most of these threats can only be partially mitigated. Also, users are burdened with memorizing and managing an ever-increasing number of passwords. However, although the existing mechanisms for enterprise password management can somewhat alleviate this burden, they each have significant usability disadvantages and can also cause more serious security incidents because they permit access to many systems through a single authenticator. Therefore, organizations should make long-term plans for replacing or supplementing password-based authentication with stronger forms of authentication for resources with higher security needs.




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