Poor password management leaves service accounts open to attack

IT security professionals are gambling with the security of their organisations by failing to update important service and process account passwords on a regular basis, with almost 15% admitting to either never updating passwords or only updating them annually, a new survey from Lieberman Software Corporation has revealed.

The survey, which was carried out at a major global IT security event, studied the attitudes of 280 IT security professionals and also revealed that 9% of organisations update their service and process account passwords on a six monthly basis, 53% update them on a quarterly basis, 21% update them on a monthly basis and only 1.5% update them on a daily basis.

> See also: Why changing passwords isn’t the answer to a data breach

‘As more and more security breaches are being uncovered, organisations should be taking a much more stringent approach at securing passwords,’ In response to the findings, Calum MacLeod, VP of EMEA at Lieberman Software Corporation, said. ‘The defence and government industries, which are a very high target for cybercriminals, have come to realise that in order to improve security passwords need to be changed on an hourly basis. If passwords only get updated on a monthly or quarterly basis, think about the damage a cybercriminal can do in that time. Between one to three months of unlimited access into an organisation’s critical systems – they could literally walk away with everything.’

In addition to this, half of the respondents of the survey that admitted to never updating service and process account passwords revealed that the reason for this was out of fear that changing passwords could potentially cause outages and downtime.

‘The organisations that choose not to update service and process account passwords because they are worried about causing outages, and believe the consequences of a cyber attack would be less severe than downtime, obviously do not understand how damaging a cyber attack can be and this points out a very worrying lack of awareness,’ said MacLeod. ‘The other respondents who admitted to never updating passwords, but didn’t cite network downtime as the reason, are playing with fire. Any organisation that doesn’t update their service account passwords, or only updates them on an annual basis, quite frankly doesn’t understand the importance of these systems.’

> See also: Keys to the castle: encryption in the cloud

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software Corporation, said: ‘This piece of research highlights that IT security professional are taking a very lax approach to securing important service accounts, which could cost organisations dearly over the coming months. We have consistently said that basic security includes locking down access to systems containing sensitive data to minimize the insider threat.

‘However, only months after a string of publicised hacks, IT security professionals are failing to implement password management appropriately and could be actively paving the way for bigger security disasters. These passwords are shared among contractors and a number of other IT security professionals. If they are not changed on a regular basis they could very easily fall into the wrong hands. Didn’t the security industry learn anything from the Snowden scandal?’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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