Help users create complex passwords that are easy to remember

While most end users understand the importance of using passwords to
secure corporate systems and data, they don’t always know how to create
a strong password. That’s why it’s just as important to create a strong
password policy in your organization. Remember: Passwords are only as
good as the policy that enforces their use.

By default, Windows disables the password filter in the Default Domain
Group Policy Object (GPO) and in the local security policy of
workstations and servers. That’s one more reason why it’s imperative
that organizations employ a written password policy — and that they
take steps to enforce it.

For example, if your company’s password policy only requires a minimum
of six characters and doesn’t require complexity (i.e., a combination
of uppercase and lowercase characters, digits, and/or nonalphanumeric
characters), then you’ve got a pretty weak policy. That means most
users will use passwords that are easy to crack through either brute
force or social engineering.

How do you make sure your users create strong passwords that hackers
can’t easily guess? Your first step is to enable the password filter in
the GPO or on local stand-alone workstations and servers. To find the
password filter, go to Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security
Settings\Account Policies\Password Policy in the Group Policy MMC in
the Default Domain policy. After enabling the password filter, you can
start creating an effective password policy for your users.

Craft a strong password policy

Let’s look at some best practices for effective password policies. Most
organizations require users’ passwords to have a minimum of eight
characters. They also specify that passwords must meet at least three
of the four complexity requirements — uppercase letters, lowercase
letters, numbers, and nonalphanumeric characters.

Organizations should also configure the password history to remember
the last 24 passwords, which is the maximum setting. This virtually
ensures that users won’t reuse passwords.

In addition, you should set the minimum and maximum age of the password
to an appropriate level. I recommend setting a maximum age of 180 days
and a minimum age of 90 days. This prevent users from cycling through
passwords until they can return to the one they want.

Put your policy in action — and enforce it

It’s smart to establish a good password policy in your organization,
but it’s even more important to actually enforce it. A strong policy
that no one has to follow doesn’t add any more security than no policy
at all.

In addition, it’s important to remember that a good password policy
doesn’t work if users have to write down their password because it’s so
complex. That only transfers the security risk instead of mitigating it.

So how can you make sure users’ passwords are complicated enough to
deter hackers and easier enough to remember? One of my colleagues
offers the following trick for creating complex passwords that meet
complexity requirements while still being possible to remember.

Step 1: Come up with a base word

Pick the name of a pet or any common thing that’s easy to remember. For
example, say you once lived in Louisville. You can use that to
establish the base of your password and satisfy the required criteria
for a strong password.

Remember: You need at least one capital letter and either a number or
special character. So, using Louisville as your base word, you can
substitute an ! or 1 for i and replace the s with $ — e.g., Lou1$ville
or L0u!$ville.

Step 2: Add more characters to the base word

Pick any four characters to add to the base word.

Step 3: Store your password without worry

Now, write down the added four characters, along with a clue for the
base word. Using our previous example, you would write down city1xyza,
where city1 signifies Louisville with a 1 and $ and xyza represents the
four additional characters.

So, even written down, this password reference would serve as a
reminder of your complete password while revealing nothing to any
roaming eyes. (Keep in mind that this example is a 14-character
password. While that may be longer than the actual requirement, it may
be easier to remember.)

Final thoughts

Password policies only work if you turn them on. Make sure you’ve
trained your users on how to create complex passwords that they can
remember without leaving a paper trail that prying eyes can easily

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